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 isn’t really the ideal way to spend my vacation. Although, when I went through my summer plans, they were starting to sound slightly dull. I wasn’t going to camp and I don’t 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 informational 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 “mock interview” in careers class. Trust me; it’s a lot scarier when you don’t know the questions beforehand. Fortunately, the interview was a success, although that wasn’t 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 wasn’t ready for the real thing.
When I got to work on my first day, I didn’t 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 couldn’t possibly cover. That one thing was the emotional impact that these poor disabled children made on you.
Most of the kids I worked with were in wheelchairs, most of them couldn’t 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 “He’s having a seizure, I’ll take him from here”. I was in shock. I had never seen a seizure before, and didn’t know what to do when I first had to deal with one.
As the weeks progressed 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 your 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 for sure, 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.