Do you have a teen who’s looking to complete their volunteer hours over the summer? The Rec Buddies program with The City of Barrie is perfect for young volunteers looking to build their skills in leadership, cooperation, and compassion.
At Rec Buddies, teen volunteers are paired with children who need a little help getting the most out of their Parks and Rec activities. Chiara Mabrucco, the recreation Programmer for Inclusion Services with the City of Barrie, says that although they support participants of all ages and abilities, the majority of the Rec Buddies participants are typically 4-12 years old. “Their needs and abilities range, and Rec Buddies may be supporting an individual with a physical, developmental, or learning disability,” says Mabrucco. “Participants are typically children who have difficulty following instruction, making friends, or expressing their needs.” Mabrucco adds that the Rec Buddy program is not necessarily designed to help children who require a 1:1 support staff, but is meant for kids who benefit from the extra support of a patient volunteer.
What should a Rec Buddy expect when they sign up? Rec Buddies participate in a number of different dance, art, music, and sport camp programs. If your teen is concerned that they don’t have enough experience working with folks with special needs, encourage them to still apply. “Most of our Rec Buddies don’t have any prior training or experience with individuals with disabilities,” says Mabrucco. “But, if a person is open-minded, creative, patient, and enjoys working with children, then they will be successful as a Rec Buddy.” Plus, the Rec Buddy program includes a full orientation to get volunteers acquainted with the program.
Rec Buddies is different from other volunteering options, because teens are able to work closely with the program’s participants and build meaningful relationships. “Volunteers make meaningful differences in the lives of children with special needs—they give them a sense of belonging, success, and a place where they feel comfortable and safe participating in their community,” says Mabrucco. Rec Buddy volunteers can truly have an impact. Mabrucco recalls a particularly successful experience from the Rec Buddies Program: “There was a participant who was having a really hard time staying with the group, following instruction, and was generally not getting much out of the program,” she recalls. “The parent was ready to withdraw the child from the program because of these reasons, and we ended up putting a Rec Buddy into the program. The Rec Buddy built a strong relationship with this child, and the program was completely turned around; they participated in almost every activity and followed along with the group with ease.” The end results were stunning, says Mabrucco. “In the end, we saw tremendous growth in that child from the first class to the last, and we were so happy to provide an opportunity for a child whom otherwise would have missed out on that program.”
Applications for Rec Buddies are accepted on an ongoing basis, and the coordinators are flexible with volunteers’ schedules to accommodate their availability. “I would encourage anyone who has an interest or passion in working with children, specifically those with exceptionalities, to take on this opportunity,” says Mabrucco. “You may never know you have an interest in this field until you give it a try, and this is the perfect place to do just that.”
The City of Barrie
by Emily Bednarz