I started volunteering through UNYFEAT at the Lose the Training Wheels program, where I helped teach a girl with autism how to ride a two-wheel bike. After five quick days, she was confidently riding a two-wheel bicycle by herself. She gave me a card that said “You are my cool big sister” and her mother was in tears as she thanked me for helping her daughter ride a bike. This made me realize that by volunteering for even an hour for five days over the summer, I could impact a child’s life, by teaching him or her how to ride a bike, or even just by talking to them about their favorite colors or summer trip and becoming a friend.
Last year, I also volunteered at the Exploring Sensations program at a gymnastic center, helping children with autism navigate through obstacle courses and encouraging them to try new activities, such as walking across a balance beam or jumping on a trampoline. One of the boys I worked with came in the first day and was running around the room and had difficulty paying attention to what people were saying and on the activity that he was trying to complete. When I would talk to him, his eyes looked everywhere, but at me. By the end of the program, when I would say his name, he looked at me and when he walked in the room, he was much more focused. Seeing his transformation throughout the program and knowing that I had a part in it made me feel amazing. After each session, his mom would love to hear how her son did that day. Even though I had only helped her son for one hour a week, she continuously thanked me and made me leave knowing that I had made a difference.
Throughout the school year, I volunteer at the Girl’s Group program with girls who have autism. At each girl’s group session, the girls work on activities, such as coloring in pictures, making snacks, and playing Just Dance on the Wii. While they are working on these activities, I encourage them, talk to them about the snack they are making, and talk to them about what they did over their winter break. I have gotten to know many of the girls very well and I hope that they do not just think of me as a volunteer, but also as a friend.
It is so important for young people to volunteer with children who have disabilities. These children have teachers, parents, and therapists, but some may have difficulties making friends or may only interact with the same few kids at school. By volunteering with them, you can be their friend, make them feel special, and these children can make you feel special. Also, volunteering teaches you to understand. You might be at a restaurant enjoying you dinner, when a boy in the table next to you starts screaming or banging their hands on the table. Instead of thinking that he is a misbehaved child and becoming annoyed, we should be patient and understand that the boy may have a disability. I have learned so much from being a volunteer with UNYFEAT and would encourage anybody who has interest to contact UNYFEAT directly. (WWW.UNYFEAT.Org)