2010 PFIG Recipient Heather Hankley

Career Administrator

Heather Hankley
College of Arts & Sciences
Cognitive Science and French Major
2011 Graduation Year

Internship: Enrichment Alliance of VA

Notes on the first week

During my first full week interning for the Enrichment Alliance, I worked as a facilitator at a nature-inspired art camp for children 7-12 years old. The Enrichment Alliance supports this camp because it is dedicated to the inclusion of children with special needs. My role at the camp is to provide support for children with disabilities during the various activities. The number of children at the camp varies from week to week including the number of special needs children. During my first week there were no children identified with special needs, but it turned out to be a very productive week. I learned how the camp operates and how to interact with a large group of children. I helped the children with their projects ranging from constructing bamboo huts to clay modeling. Much of each day was spent outside enjoying the beauty of nature in hopes that nature will inspire creativity for the children.

Next week there is an Autistic child scheduled to attend the camp. I will serve as a one-on-one mentor for this particular child. Up to this point in the summer, I have been in training so that I may provide support for special needs children. I have also communicated with the child’s mother about how to handle certain situations that may arise. I am looking forward to a great learning experience next week. I believe it will be completely different than my first week at the camp, however it is sure to be a valuable and rewarding experience.

Midway

Over the course of the summer I have had a great time interacting with young children in a unique, creative environment. The most interesting and challenging week for me thus far was two weeks ago when a young boy with Autism attended the camp. My primary role at the camp is to serve as a mentor for children with special needs who may attend. I spent the entire week with this particular child helping him through each activity. I had no idea what to expect at first. I realized quickly that this young child needed lots of space and did not want someone constantly watching over him. There were challenging moments during the week when the child really didn’t want to do certain activities. I learned that it was ok to just go along with whatever he wanted to do. He enjoyed drawing the most so many times we would go sit and draw for a while. Another challenging aspect of the week was explaining to the other children at the camp why this particular boy needed some extra help and attention. Many times children do not understand the situation and immediately assume that the other child is just strange and weird. In the end, it took explaining to them that this young boy thought differently than they did. Autistic people tend to have difficulty expressing emotions and at first I was unsure as to whether or not this boy was having a good time at the camp. Towards the end of the week I could tell that he had grown rather attached to me. It was rewarding to know that my work at the camp had paid off and that I had helped this child in some way no matter how small that might be. I was amazed at how sweet he was and I really look forward to continuing my work. Overall the week was an extremely rewarding experience for me. I now feel better prepared to work with special needs children in the coming weeks.

The camp runs for three weeks and then there is a week-long break before starting the final three weeks. During the week that the camp was not in session, my supervisor at the Enrichment Alliance had me help out at a woodworking camp. This camp was very different from the art-inspired nature camp but it was really great for me to get to work with children in a very different environment. I had no previous experience with woodworking so the most challenging part was figuring out what I was doing before I could help the children. I learned to just go with the flow at this camp and I ended up bonding with many of the kids because it was a much smaller setting. Each day there was a maximum of six kids. These children were working with very sharp tools and many of them were working on very elaborate projects. I was amazed by the capabilities of these children. Although this was only a week, I was glad to continue my service and help at a different camp.

Other than knowing how the art inspired nature camp operates I have no idea what to expect because there are different children each week. The personality of each of the kids really shapes the experience for me. I hope that even if I am helping one-on-one with a child with special needs I can still stay connected with the group as a whole. This is something I missed out on when I was helping the boy with autism. Overall, I hope to continue learning about how to interact and help special needs children in an artistic environment.

Final Reflections

The last weeks of the camp were more intense than the beginning. There were no children with identified special needs; however there were a few children who definitely needed the extra help and support. Having become fully trained as a camp assistant, I floated from activity to activity helping wherever I was most needed. There were a larger number of children during the last weeks, which sometimes became overwhelming because so many things were going on at once. However, there were many fun and energetic times that certainly out-weighed the stressful moments. Personally, I grew a lot over the summer. I learned to trust my instincts about things. One particular moment that comes to mind involved one of the campers getting injured. One afternoon I was on the playground with the children, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a young boy get injured while playing on a see-saw. My instincts immediately took over, and I rushed him down to the school house to have the camp facilitators help me administer first aid. He ended up being just fine, but it made me realize that not only was I at the camp to help things run smoothly, I was there as a caretaker. This is role that I have not previously held in my life, and I believe that it has helped me grow as a mentor and as a teacher. Overall, my experience working for the Enrichment Alliance at the camp has helped me become more prepared for future work with children. As I explore my future career options, I will always look back on this summer's experience. I feel that I have a renewed sense of enthusiasm about working with kids, and I hope to find a career where I can focus on youth development.