Doing good: Girl Scout organizes training program for special needs babysitters

by susan on October 5, 2012

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[Ed note: This is the latest in the Doing Good series which features stories of Southborough residents who are doing their part to help the causes they hold near and dear. In this installment we hear from Girl Scout Emily Van Learhoven about her efforts this summer to put together a training program for special needs babysitters.]

by Emily Van Laarhoven

I am a seventeen-year-old Girl Scout in Southborough and I just completed my Gold Award Community Service Project, which is the Girl Scout equivalent of the Eagle Scout Project. In the fall of 2011 when I was still in the brainstorming phase of my project I talked to my neighbor, Donna Fantozzi, who is a passionate advocate for the special needs community. I knew that I wanted to do a project to benefit kids with special needs and their families, and she connected me with Jennifer Ostroff, the district Autism specialist.

Ms. Ostroff pointed out to me that families of special needs children often have difficulty finding qualified babysitters to watch their children. I decided that I would recruit interested teens from Northborough and Southborough and train them to babysit for children with special needs.

By the spring my project was picking up steam and I got approval from my Girl Scout Council. I also arranged to have my volunteers spend time observing and helping out in the Academic/Social Pragmatics programs for kids with special needs at both Finn Elementary School in Southborough and Melican Middle School in Northborough.

I was so excited because I realized that the project benefitted three distinct groups of people. First and foremost, the families of special needs children in Northborough and Southborough would have an accessible list of babysitters. This was very important to me since I had heard from my neighbor that parents often had to pay $25 – $30 per hour for adult professional babysitters.

Second, I knew that it would benefit the volunteers, who would gain valuable experience and also be able to charge slightly more than the average $8 – $10 that they would usually get paid for typical babysitting jobs. Lastly, I hoped that the summer programs at Melican and Finn would appreciate the help in the classroom and the added social interactions for the children in the program.

Once I got all of the pieces in place I recruited volunteers from Melican and Trottier Middle School and they each signed up for one or more weeks of volunteering at either Melican or Finn. The program at Melican ended the first week in August and the program at Finn continued until the last week of summer.

I spent three weeks in the classroom with each new shift of volunteers, and I personally learned so much from observing how the teachers interacted with the students and from working with the students myself. It was inspiring to see the improvement in the special needs students over the course of the summer, and I was very impressed with the maturity and enthusiasm of the volunteers, who brought so much fun energy into the classroom. For example, one of the volunteers from the first week of the program brought in her iPod and a stuffed bear that acted as a speaker so that the volunteers and the students could have a dance party at recess. It was a perfect break from a morning of math facts and reading packets, and the kids remembered it for the rest of the summer.

The last step in my project was to hold two workshops just for the volunteers to teach skills that were specific to babysitting – first aid, questions to ask parents, etc. We also discussed what we learned in the classroom in more detail, and the girls once again surprised me with their insights.

At the end of the workshop they all filled out profiles with their contact information and a description of their experience with special needs kids, which I have since compiled into a binder. I hope to pass the binder off to one of the specialists in the school district so that the parents of special needs children can have access to this list and benefit from the hard work of the volunteers this summer.

(Image: Emily Van Laarhoven, contributed)

{ 10 comments }

1 JOJAMA October 5, 2012 at 8:32 PM

Congratulations Emily!! What a great project and so needed in our community!!!

2 Mark Ford October 5, 2012 at 10:13 PM

Wow!

Excellent, Emily. Amazing project, great report.

3 Diane R October 6, 2012 at 7:24 AM

What a wonderful idea and project! You should be proud of what you have accomplished. Congratulations!

4 chelsea October 6, 2012 at 10:32 AM

This is amazing!
Way to go Emily!
I am a special needs teacher and a parent og a child with special needs, and what you have done is extraordinary!

5 Cindy Rotermund October 6, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Really great project idea and it sounds like it was super successful. I’m sure your parents are very proud of what you accomplished!

6 CAW October 6, 2012 at 3:10 PM

Emily,
What wonderful Girl Scout Gold Award Project! It is very nice to hear there are girls like you out there going for the Gold and taking the time out of your busy life to do it! You are an inspiration to many other Girl Scouts out there who have done there Bronze and Silver Awards to keep on going…for the Gold!

7 Martha Ulfelder October 6, 2012 at 7:27 PM

This is an amazing example of a person tapping into a real need in the community and doing something about it. I commend Emily and her group of teenage volunteers for their work. Very nicely written summary of the project as well.

8 Emily Van Laarhoven October 9, 2012 at 7:34 PM

Thank you all for your kind words. I had a great time doing this project, and I am currently looking for someone who might be interested in running it next year. I have collected all of my resources and materials into a binder and thumb drive and if anyone knows a teenager who would like to get some leadership experience and make a difference, please let me know! Thanks! ~Emily

9 Karen Muggeridge October 9, 2012 at 10:57 PM

Congratulations Emily on your Gold Award Community Service Project and on your commitment to Scouting. How wonderful that you were able to identify a need within the community and then were able to address that need in doing something that has such a positive impact on so many people. The parents, the children and the caregivers I am sure all reaped many rewards!
I am the older sibling of an intellectually challenged brother. David has brought joy to so many over the years, as these gifted individuals are so apt to due. My guess is, the program had it’s expected benefits, then so many more that couldn’t have been imagined. Please keep up your kind hearted, creative ways. Thanks to you and to all who are involved!
Karen

10 MARIE VAN LAARHOVEN October 25, 2012 at 11:49 AM

HELLO EMILY FROM MONTREAL,

JAMES AND I ARE SO PROUD OF YOU AGAIN FOR ALL YOUR SUCCESS IN ARRANGING THIS WONDERFUL PROGRAM TO BENEFIT EVERYONE INVOLVED.

GOD BLESS YOU
NANNY RE AND JAMES

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