Julia’s Experience with Safe Haven Basketball

On Saturdays since November, I have spent my afternoons being a supportive Buddy at Safe Haven Basketball. Safe Haven is a basketball league for special needs kids to have fun and be active. I support the session with 8-14 year-olds. Alongside other buddies, I help the players do their warmup drills, run basketball drills involving dribbling, passing, and shooting, and overall help players improve their basketball skills. During the last hour of the session, the players have a basketball game and as a buddy I make sure players go to their correct defensive positions and get a turn with the ball.

 

This service has been a very rewarding experience because I get to see players improve not only their basketball skills but also their confidence.

Miranda Wollen’s Experience with CHAI Volunteering

This year, I assumed co-leadership of a service club called CHAI, or Children’s Hardship Awareness Initiative.  As part of the club’s mission, members who wish to do so volunteer almost every weekend at either Sunday Circle, a program aimed to help special-needs children learn to interact with the world around them through gentle guidance from teenage volunteers, or the Association to Benefit Children’s Saturday Open Door Program, during which volunteers play with children from the East Harlem community while their parents take ESL, parenting, and fitness classes.  Taking a leadership role was frightening initially, but over time I have come to appreciate my new ability to help Friends students engage more actively with service in their communities.

Sunday Circle has been a learning experience for me.  I didn’t know what to expect during my first visit, but the warmth and openness from the children with whom I was working encouraged me to participate actively in the program.  On one particular day, a friend and I taught a mostly non-verbal little boy named Abe with a love for music a song and game that I learned at summer camp.   Seeing Abe, who sometimes struggles to get out of his own head, learn and love the song was so heartening to us; we could really see the impact we were making on these kids’ lives.  Some weeks are harder than others, but earning the children’s trust and being able to give them a safe space for positive interaction with their peers has been such an amazing experience.

 

Jules’ North Stars Coaching

“We are in community each time we find a place where we belong and find we are needed.”

Credit to the American Special Hockey Association’s facebook page

This is what I found when I went to volunteer with the Central Park North Stars on Friday. The team had the fantastic opportunity to skate with the United Arab Emirates women’s hockey team, currently visiting the United States. They came to the rink to help out the kids who needed it.

Peter F. Block originally said the quote above, and it speaks to this situation well. I’m at home on the ice, and for the last three seasons I have volunteered as a Junior Coach for the North Stars because I’m needed. It isn’t your run-of-the-mill hockey program, where the kids are all middle-to-upper class neurotypical teenagers. The North Stars is for developmentally disabled kids aged 5-18, under the premise that hockey is for everyone. I usually end up helping one of the adult

Credit to bagopucks (Alan Strachan) on Instagram

coaches work with a kid having a tough day, or helping an individual improve their skating 1 on 1.

I could write this reflection on any of the practices I’ve helped coach, but this one stood out. The women on the UAE team weren’t there to show off, they were there to help. Just like I was. They were running drills, helping some of the younger kids back to their feet when they fell, and helping convince one player that he needed to wear his gloves on the ice. Normal practices are usually a little more difficult to coach, as there are fewer adults to kids on the ice. The UAE women on the ice were working hard with each person, helping them skate, pass, and shoot.

Yet in some ways, the practice was the same. It was the same players on the ice, the same challenges being faced, the same team playing and having fun and falling over and getting up again. But it was so much more than that. It was a connection that bridged language and continent and age. For those 2 1/2 hours, everyone on that ice was having fun. And that’s a beautiful thing.

I am so glad I have opportunity after opportunity to help these kids, and I’m so glad I found my little community of hockey.