month, Lydia Bell ’07 gets to mingle with an aspiring rock star.
really loves to get everyone singing ‘Yankee Doodle,’ or doing the moves for
the ‘YMCA,’” Bell says about her 10-year-old friend, David*.
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 they’re 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 wouldn’t meet on campus.
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,”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wesleyan’s 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.
and her student volunteers have been the heart and soul of the Saturday for
Kids program,” Kuan says. “It’s a very worthwhile, service-orientated
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
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!”
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.
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.
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
Sierpinski says the Classical Studies Department supports her working for the
program. For a while, she was storing toys in the Classical Studies’
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
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
are a fabulous group of kids,” Shortell says, “and you will always get back
as much, if not more, than what you put in.”
more information or to become a volunteer or performer, email Debbie
firstname.lastname@example.org or call Lou Alperowitz at 860-635-5151
(* last name withheld by request.)