On the surface, Annabel Lyons is like many teenagers.

The affable Loomis Chaffee junior spends her free-time running, skiing, and writing; she enjoys her friends and plays the piano during family gatherings. Her interests in school favor the sciences, and she hopes to one day become a dermatologist.

What sets Ms. Lyons apart is the way she starts her Monday afternoons: climbing aboard a small white bus, settling into her seat, and watching out of the window as the Hartford city line comes into view.

Every week, Annabel and her peers tutor in the COMPASS after-school program at Asian Studies Academy, an elementary school in Hartford’s South End.

Volunteerism may be in the wheelhouse of many young people, but this program is entirely the brainchild of Ms. Lyons – conceived by her, pitched by her, and championed by her as a way to give back to the community.

“When I heard about COMPASS, I loved the mission and [youth development] programs,” she explains. “Loomis students have launched and developed service projects in the past, and I was really excited that the [Loomis] administration was open to working with COMPASS.”

Convincing the administration of a prep school with no shortage of programs is no small feat.

Loomis Chaffee is a private high school of 700 students, 70% of whom are boarding on the Windsor, Connecticut campus.

The high rate of student residency means that the clubs, sports, and community service projects are integral to a holistic experience, and Heather Henderson, the Director of Community Service, sets a high bar for ensuring that service projects are beneficial both to the students and the programs they support.

New projects must fill a need. A successful launch depends entirely on the student’s ability to translate an idea into one with requisite partnerships and feasible logistics.

For Ms. Henderson, supporting the vision of students like Annabel Lyons is what amounts to a dream job. After months of planning, the tutoring program at COMPASS began this past Winter.

“I still remember how formative service was for me as a young person,” remarks Ms. Henderson. “It’s extremely fulfilling to see students like Annabel making a difference, and extending the opportunity to others.”

The partnership with COMPASS is one of the newest outlets for student engagement, but it has quickly gone from strength to strength.

“We started with seven volunteers during the Winter term, and we’ve almost doubled our team for the Spring term,” notes Ms. Lyons.

Registration for the Spring session is now closed, but the slots will re-open to the entire Loomis community this Fall.

Students who may be interested in working with COMPASS need not worry about having prior experience.

The program is designed to support COMPASS kids in completing homework assignments, and COMPASS staff members can jump in if the participants get stuck. The time commitment is also doable, says Ms. Lyons, as it amounts to a little over an hour a week and transportation is provided to and from the Loomis campus.

“It’s such a rewarding experience,” she adds. “I always leave with a feeling of accomplishment, and the kids are so appreciative. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

By: Clare Timmis
Feature Photo Credit: Annabel Lyons, 2018 | Julie Burbank