CRANFORD – A group of modern-day angels swooped into the Cerebral Palsy League Jardine Academy this week as 12 teenager volunteers with Catholic Heart Workcamp visited as part of their 2010 mission trip. The teenagers spent mornings working with the children of the academy, who have developmental disabilities – helping them with their activities, reading to them and assisting teachers – and afternoons cleaning the CPL’s union facility. The teenagers also helped decorate the school for a weeklong camping theme.
Catholic Heart Workcamp is a nationwide organization that draws teenagers from throughout the nation to perform community work as part of their mission, particularly focusing on the elderly, people with disabilities and those who cannot afford needed assistance. The teen volunteers spend four days at assigned sites throughout the United States.
There are 40 camps nationwide in 2010, with the New Jersey camp located in Kearny. The Kearny camp operates 35 work groups and has been sending one group to the Jardine Academy for one week each summer for several years.
Watching the teenagers interact with the students it is hard to tell who enjoys the visit more, the volunteers or the children they are visiting.
“It’s very eye-opening,” said Colleen Hait of New York state. “I’ve never dealt with anybody with disabilities. This has given me the chance to realize they’re just like everyone else.”
Added Danielle Nelson of Massachusetts, “Seeing one of them smile brightens my day. It’s so amazing.”
“It’s one of the happiest and upbeat places you can be,” said Meg Reilly, a counselor accompanying the teenagers. “(The children) don’t have any of the negativity that comes with adversity.”
Experiencing that positive outlook is something Catholic Heart Workcamp organizers wants their teenagers to take away from their week of volunteering.
“It’s really about assisting the children and the teachers and exposing our kids to life with disabilities,” Reilly said. “Everybody gets a different experience. We try to give back in any way we can. When we go back to camp at night everyone has something they gained.”
The Jardine Academy and its children gain from the experience, as well, according to Barry Bullis, Jardine’s principal.
“Our kids like having people around,” he said. “And they’re really great with the kids. Only two had experience with children with disabilities. For them to jump in and be part of the group is pretty special. I think it’s fantastic that these kids are taking time out of their summer to help others.”
Meg Reilly, a counselor with Catholic Heart Workcamp, reads to students at the Cerebral Palsy League Jardine Academy while teenager volunteers with the camp look on. Twelve teenagers spent the week at Jardine working with the children and helping to clean the CPL’s Union facility. (Photo courtesy of Jardine Academy)
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