How To Change Your Life In 5 Weeks

HANNAH TARDER-STOLL

            For the past two years at NT I always wondered how some people managed to get hundreds of community service hours but still have time for a normal life. I know that the requirement is only 40 hours, but the little over-achiever inside my head kept telling me I needed more. It did occur to me that I could volunteer during the summer, but that isnít really the ideal way to spend my vacation. Although, when I went through my summer plans, they were starting to sound slightly dull. I wasnít going to camp and I donít have a cottage; so I decided to volunteer at Bloorview Kids Rehab, a rehabilitation centre for disabled children. When I applied, I had no clue that I was about to embark on one of the most life-changing experiences I would ever have.

            The first step of my volunteering experience was to attend an information meeting at the rehab centre. I met some other volunteers and was a bit intimidated to find that they were practically all university students. I then signed up for my interview.  I was quite nervous, as I had never had an interview except for the ďmock interviewĒ in careers class. Trust me; itís a lot scarier when you donít know the questions beforehand. Fortunately, the interview was a success, although that wasnít the end of my application process. Once I was officially accepted as a volunteer, I had to go for a four hour training session. I learned how to lift people out of a wheelchair and what to do in case of medical emergencies. I even had to watch a video that featured two clowns who taught us how to wash our hands properly. Even after this long training process, I still wasnít ready for the real thing.

            When I got to work on my first day, I didnít know what to expect. But, as soon as I started working with the kids, I realized that there was one thing that my intensive training process couldnít possibly cover. That one thing was the emotional impact that these disabled children had made on me.

            Most of the kids I worked with were in wheelchairs, most of them couldnít talk, and most of them were hardly aware of their surroundings. We would sing songs, do arts and crafts, bake cookies, and half of the kids would be staring into space, completely unresponsive and inattentive. What could we do? We kept singing, we kept baking, but it was absolutely heart wrenching to see these children who were hardly able to function, let alone make a paper mache mask.

            Probably the most frightening experience I had during my five weeks at Bloorview was the first time I encountered a seizure. We took the kids out for a walk on a sunny morning. The child I was looking after was particularly alert. After about ten minutes, he started screaming and rubbing his hands together. I thought he was just happy to be outside, until my supervisor came up to me and said, ďHeís having a seizure, Iíll take him from hereĒ.  I was in shock. I had never seen a seizure before, and didnít know what to do when I first had to deal with one. 

            As the weeks passed, I learned more, I encountered more seizures, and was able to handle them more effectively. I soon realized that although it was heart wrenching to see these kids that could hardly function, even the smallest smile from one of them could make my day.

            I worked with a lot of disabled children in my 5 weeks at Bloorview, and they had a huge impact on me. There were times that they made me sad, there were times that they made me happy and there were times that they made me hopeful. But one thing is certain. I walked into Bloorview at the beginning of the summer hoping to leave with approximately 100 hours. Instead, as I left the building for the last time, I was walking out with an entirely new perspective on life.