Common concerns of many children these days might be the number of Pokemon cards they are short in a set, or the stiff-collared shirt they are forced to wear for a family function. For some kids, however, there are more serious issues to contend with, like coping with a substance-abusing parent, or wondering where their next home will be.
For such a child, a day's worth of play and the undivided attention of an adult is a much-needed diversion and can be an extremely therapeutic experience.
Samantha Apel, an assistant in the Housing Office, recently witnessed firsthand the benefits of such interaction.
Apel was one of 20 university staff members who volunteered at the Sept. 29 United Way Day of Caring event at Port Discovery, the children's museum, where Hopkins played host to 20 children from the Woodbourne Children's Diagnostic Treatment Center, a 90-day shelter in downtown Baltimore that provides multiple levels of support to emotionally needy children. The children, aged 6 to 14, are referred to the 48-bed facility from local departments of social services so that they can receive psychiatric and home-placement evaluations in a stabilizing environment. Many of the children are either up for adoption or come from foster homes.
The treatment center, which is a therapeutic-based facility, provides both a structure for the children and the opportunity for them to participate in recreational activities such as roller skating, going to the movies and family-oriented cookouts.
At the Day of Caring event, the children and Hopkins volunteers spent the better part of the day running, climbing and enjoying the museum's various educational workshops.
Apel says she spent most of the time trying to keep up with the 6-year-old boy who picked her out as his play partner.
Apel, who has volunteered her time before to interact with kids from this type of background, says it was easy to discern just how much the Woodbourne children enjoyed the one-on-one play and interaction.
"You see it directly in the smiles on their faces, especially when you are paying attention to them and being part of what they are doing," Apel says. "It was great to see the kids getting rid of some of their energy in a very positive way. Many of these kids haven't received the attention they needed at home, and it's great for them to get this one-on-one attention in a fun environment.
Curtis Atkinson, program manager at the Children's Diagnostic Treatment Center, says children without a stable home setting deal with an inordinate amount of stress, and it's vital that these children are put back on track. Some of them fall behind in school or develop behavioral problems, Atkinson says, so at the treatment center the children are rewarded for proper behavior, receive after-school assistance and gain a higher sense of self-esteem.
"Perhaps the most important thing we do is provide consistency so these children don't have to worry about fending for themselves. They know that someone will be there for them," Atkinson says.
The Woodbourne Children's Diagnostic Treatment Center is an agency that will benefit from the Community Safety Net created this year by the United Way of Central Maryland campaign. Gifts not earmarked for a specific program or agency will be divided among four main critical-need areas: Investing in Children and Youth, Building the Workforce, Strengthening Families and Responding to Crisis. Investing in Children and Youth supports programs and agencies that provide caring adult role models or mentors, after-school care and the opportunity to give back through community service.
Lucinda Davis, human resources director for the Homewood campus who organized the volunteers for the Day of Caring event, says it didn't take much effort on her part to round up the volunteers because of the overwhelming interest on the part of the Hopkins community to spend time with these needy children.
"The opportunity to work with children can be so wonderful. It can be good on both sides. I'm sure it was fun for both the staff and the children to break from their normal routine," Davis says. "The United Way does such good work, and the Day of Caring is just one way that people can contribute."