My Experience Volunteering at Santa Clara TRS
By Thomas Mathew | Published on July 20, 2020 | 3 Minute Read
Over the past few months, I have been volunteering at the City of Santa Clara Therapeutic Recreation Services. I chose to volunteer here because at my middle school we had a special education program and through this program, I gained an interest in helping kids with special needs. I had no idea where to start, so I went online and found this amazing opportunity in which volunteers are allowed to interact and help kids with disabilities in a one on one format. Every day that I came to volunteer, I would be assigned a different kid to work with. Then for the next 2 hours, we would go through a variety of activities to help that kid learn crucial skills like motor skills, social skills and being independent. At first, I thought that we, the volunteers, would only be allowed to do small tasks like setting up activities, while the main staff would work with the kids. I was incredibly surprised and happy when I found out that I would get to work with the kids as well.
A typical day volunteering at TRS Children’s Recreation would go like this: We would arrive at the Recreation Center in Santa Clara at 9:00 in the morning. We first discuss the theme of the day and the activities we would do that correlate with this theme. We would then do the setup for the activities that need preparation. After everything is ready, every volunteer would be assigned a student to take care of and help out for the day. At 9:30 the kids begin to arrive. We start by introducing ourselves to the kids and then for the next 15 minutes we would play with the legos and puzzles strewn on the carpet. This is our chance to get to know the kid that we would be working with for the rest of the day. After the play time, we would have a circle time where the students and staff all introduce themselves to everyone. Alongside their name, they would have to answer a prompt that normally has something to do with the theme of the day. For example, when the theme was superhero day, each kid would have to state their favorite superhero. After circle time, we would break into different activities. Our role as a volunteer is to keep the kids engaged in the activities and prompt them to give it their best. If the student starts to wander around or lose interest it is our job to redirect them and help them complete the activity. The activities range wildly depending on the theme from fortune cookie hunting on Chinese New Year day to superhero yoga on superhero day. After the activities, we would take a quick snack break and then go outside to play. If the weather does not permit this, we would have free play inside. After free play, we always do a craft activity. This is personally my favorite part of the day. Here, everyone, including the volunteers, works on a simple art project. While working on our own craft, we would simultaneously help our child make their own. It is important that we do not do it for them, but instead help them do it for themselves. This teaches them to be independent. We would then have some time to play with the crafts we made. We would close off the day with story time. Sometimes the story is read by one of the students. At 11:30, the students would leave and we would do a quick clean up and reflection of the day. We would talk about the behaviors of the students and what worked/didn’t work well with them. At 12:00 we would sign out and leave for the day.
When volunteering at TRS, I have learned to become a better leader. Working with kids that have disabilities taught me that everyone is special in their own way and that is what makes them great. I have made many new friendships here and always look forward to seeing them again the next time I volunteer. It feels great knowing that I am making a difference in their lives and that I am wanted there. It feels especially good when students remember me from previous sessions and run over to play and talk with me about their week. Taking control of a situation is something that I have struggled with in the past. Now after working with these kids, I feel more confident in myself and my ability to communicate with others. This has been a rewarding experience from the start. I definitely plan on continuing to volunteer at the City of Santa Clara Therapeutic Recreation Services and I recommend others to also find similar opportunities in their community.
About the Author
As an incoming junior in high school, Thomas is passionate about making the world a better place for kids with special needs. As a lead on the Embracing Special Needs Team, his job is to coordinate with interested individuals in producing content for the project. Outside of the intiative, he is a part of his high school track team and robotics team. In his free time, he likes to twist balloon animals.