I am a youth worker at heart. When I worked with teenagers, we were always trying to come up with creative and fun ways to be of service- I did a lot of service-learning activities with my students. Once we started a program at a high school I worked at where we had an "unmentionable drive" where students were to donate new panties, underwear, bras, etc. for teens in shelters. It was a huge success as it was a little different from the typical clothing drive. Picking up garbage, bagging food and things like that are necessary and good, but not always very meaningful or fulfilling. They can be, but most people like volunteer experiences that involve contact with people.
I mentioned earlier today how the teenagers from the dance studio I work at came to Akila's birthday party. Last year, they came, along with some of Akila's peers. Akila only wanted to play with the teens, and her peers were OK with that as they did not seem to have a "real" connection with Akila (understandably so). This year, I only had the teens, plus cousins and a close neighbor girl. This worked so well.
Akila had a great time, and felt very loved. This group of teenagers, played with her, encouraged her, redirected her, and made her feel really good. I wish all kids with special needs could have "typical" birthday parties with friends. It just doesn't usually work out. But what a great option I have fallen onto with these great teenagers.
If I were still working with youth consistently, I would start up a program called the "Birthday Brigade" or something like that. One thing I hear over and over from parents like me, is how it breaks our heart that our kids have no friends, and this is really evident around birthday time. We would work with some special ed teachers to identify students that might be open to and benefit from having some teenagers attend their parties. This could possibly be the start to some on-going relationships between the students. It wouldn't work for every special needs kid, but it would for some. Akila is still too clueless to realize that she doesn't have any friends who really want to come to her party. The day she realizes this, my heart will break.
My mind is spinning on high as I run this program through my head. Makes me want to get back into youth work, but I'm not ready. Too much youth work on the home front at the moment. Tomorrow is Akila's actual birthday, hoping for a smooth day like today was.
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