Pictured above, Lydia Bell 07 (center) and area children watch the Footnotes Dance Theater perform during the Saturday for Kids Programs Buddy Day. Bell is a substitute teacher at Saturday for Kids, a recreation/respite program for children with disabilities.
At right, Saturday for Kids Program Director and Wesleyan administrative assistant Debbie Sierpinski helps a child with a craft project. Sierpinski is recruiting volunteers and performers for the program.
Twice a month, Lydia Bell 07 gets to mingle with an aspiring rock star.
He really loves to get everyone singing Yankee Doodle, or doing the moves for the YMCA, Bell says about her 10-year-old friend, David*.
Bell and David meet during The Saturday for Kids program, a recreation/respite program for children with disabilities. Several Wesleyan students, staff and faculty are donating a few hours a month to socially interact with the youngsters, and theyre always looking for more Wesleyan volunteers to work with children ages 6-12.
Saturday for Kids program Director Debbie Sierpinski, administrative assistant for the Classical Studies Department, Medieval Studies Program, and the Archaeology Program, says this is an ideal opportunity to give back to the community, while meeting other Wesleyan student and employees who they normally wouldnt meet on campus.
Since Wesleyan has really pushed for community services to be an important aspect of the Wesleyan community, I feel that the Saturday for Kids program is a vital avenue for Wesleyan students, faculty and staff to accomplish this, she says.
Saturday for Kids is part of the Middlesex Association for Retarded Citizens: Community Resources, Ltd., most commonly known as MARC. The private, non-profit organization provides services to adults and children with cognitive disabilities and their families.
The Saturday for Kids Program is held two to three Saturday mornings a month. Structured activities, crafts, toys and free time for play offer valuable social interaction for the children.
Bell started volunteering in 2004 and was hired as a sub this year. She says the most rewarding part of working with the program is having the luxury of working one-on-one with a child.
With time and patience I have found rewarding connections through games and lots of smiling and laughing, Bell says. Working with special needs children is a great way to prepare for a teaching career or to be active in the greater Middletown area. I would recommend it to other students as a great way to get off campus and get involved with the community around us.
Sierpinski has already written several recommendations for students who are applying for fellowships in this field or who are looking for summer employment working with children.
Wesleyans Community Relations co-sponsors the program to enable some meetings to be held at Wesleyan. When the organization holds its Community Service Fair in September, Frank Kuan, director of Community Relations, recruits Wesleyan students and staff to man the information booth.
Debbie and her student volunteers have been the heart and soul of the Saturday for Kids program, Kuan says. Its a very worthwhile, service-orientated cause.
Some Wesleyan employees have got involved in the Saturday for Kids Program through their talents. Helen Mensah, an artist in residence in dance, played African drums for the children. Juliana Shortell, collections manager of the Archaeology Program and member of the Footnotes Dance Theater performed a dance for the kids. Kids on the Block, a volunteer group associated with Oddfellows Playhouse and Wesleyan students, put on a play with puppets that have disabilities.
Shortell says Footnotes has performed at schools and libraries around the state, but the Saturday for Kids Program is her favorite group to work with.
Usually there is a fair bit of snickering and shyness, she says. Not so with these kids. They welcome us and jump right in, and because everyone cannot necessarily move or communicate in the same way, we all learn about different ways to relate to words, music, and movement. In the end, there is very little performing going on, as we are all just playing together. And that is the way we like it!
These special performances take place once a month during Buddy Day. During this event, the children can invite friends and siblings and anyone from the community to join in on the fun.
It is a way to educate the community about what special needs means and makes the program more inclusive, Sierpinski says.
Sierpinski is hoping more students and faculty from the theater, music and other departments donate their skills to entertain the children.
We have found that the common link with all of these children, no manner what level of functioning they are at or what kind of cognitive and physical disabilities they have, is music and dance, she says. Some of our non-verbal children give us a huge smile and we know that we have touched their soul.
Sierpinski says the Classical Studies Department supports her working for the program. For a while, she was storing toys in the Classical Studies library.
One day, one of the visiting faculty members was riding one of the kids adult trikes down the hall, she says. I thought I was seeing things. He said the tires were flat, he had inflated them and was checking out the bike. I am very lucky to work at Wesleyan, a place very committed to community service.
The Saturday for Kids Program meets from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Woodhead Lounge, Mercy High School or at the MARC administration building, 421 Main Street in Cromwell.
These are a fabulous group of kids, Shortell says, and you will always get back as much, if not more, than what you put in.
For more information or to become a volunteer or performer, email Debbie Sierpinski at email@example.com or call Lou Alperowitz at 860-635-5151 extension 305.
(* last name withheld by request.)
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|