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Volunteers Badly Needed For Handicapped Children

Mental Hospital Program

By Sara M. Pope

A meeting to recruit volunteers for work in the Children's Unit of the Metropolitan State Hospital at Waltham has been scheduled by Phillips Brooks House for July 8. It will probably be held in the biggest room in the building, and that room, possibly, will be too small.

Similar widely publicized meetings last fall drew eight times as many volunteers as ever before in the history of this program to help the State's mentally handicapped children. It seems likely that the summer program will continue in this expanding trend. But it is not likely that the supply will cease to beridiculously small compared to the demand.

Volunteer's Role

The role of the volunteer worker can be explained in terms as simple as the needs of the children. "Play is children's job," says Mrs. Suzanne Cox, coordinator of the Activity Therapy Program, "and these children need people to help them play." The role of the volunteer, then, is to teach the mentally disturbed to play. The requirement for that job, aside from being at least eighteen years of age is simply to care and to have an objective emotional control of oneself.

This control is not always easy. "These children have been deprived of the most basic primitive need, care, and because they need you so badly their reactions to you at first range from anything from bewildered wonder to anger," Mrs. Cox explained, "and the volunteer must be prepared to face the unavoidable frustrations that arise from these actions."

Staff Conferences

Conferences are arranged between members of the hospital's medical staff and the student volunteers to help the volunteer with any problems that he or she may find in such situations, as well as to discuss the case histories and problems of the children whom the volunteer works with.

The work is, as the name signifies, wholly voluntary. In the older groups, from about thirteen through sixteen, the men volunteers work with the boys and the women with the girls, but in the younger groups, six through twelve, the volunteer may choose either boys or girls.

Group work is encouraged by the hospital for all on the first visits so that the inexperienced volunteer may become generally acquainted with the children. After that, if the volunteer becomes interested in one particular child, he or she can make arrangements to become that childs special volunteer.

Whether the volunteer decides to stay with the group, or chooses a special child, it is in this period of group work that the introductory problems are met and overcome by both volunteer and children. "Once the children see that you really care by the fact that you come back again, they will respond readily," Mrs. Cox explains.

Range Expanded

The volunteer's interest in the child is very quickly reflected by the child through his or her interest in the volunteer. Once this relationship is established and the volunteer becomes more familiar with the work, the range of function becomes correspondingly greater. Where at first work on the grounds is encouraged so that the child will not associate his or her volunteer with going away, later the volunteer may take his group or child for walks, on picnics, to the zoo, the movies, or wherever the child wants to go.

Educational Value

"We want to set up creative and rewarding situations for both the volunteers and the children," Mrs. Cox explained, "and we would not place either of them in one that was not so. In addition to its filling a desperate need for the children, the volunteer work that is offered here is also a unique opportunity for the students interested in this work and we will attempt to make this an educational experience."

With the cooperation of programs such as the ones organized by Phillips Brooks House, Boston University and Regis College, the hospital can offer students the opportunity to work with professional people. Observation and conferences are arranged for the students with the professional staff and keyed to the students knowledge so that he may increase his knowledge beyond the scope of his particular child.

In some cases, such conferences, together with individual work have received academic credit.

Summer Squeeze

"During the summer especially we are destitute of help and this is an invaluable opportunity for those who help--we look to Harvard with great hope. We are seeking to renew our affiliation with the Graduate School of Education and to further increase our program with PBH." Mrs. Cox said, "All of us are waiting for the summer school."

"Are You Harvard?"

This statement was corroborated with surprising directness. "Harvard" and "The Summer School" were personified by children who approached infrequent June visitors, sometimes timidly, sometimes belligerently demanding, "Are you my volunteer? Has the Summer School come? Are you Harvard?"

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