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In new partnership, Badger Volunteers help care for children with disabilities

December 12, 2017 By Emily Hamer

The Badger volunteers do activities with the kids, such as making puzzles, playing with Play-Doh or playing with trains. Courtesy of Xai Xiong

Badger Volunteers has started a new partnership this semester with Gio’s Garden, a respite center for young children with special developmental disabilities.

Around 700 UW–Madison students are a part of Badger Volunteer each semester. These students form teams and volunteer at organizations in the local community every week for one semester.

The Badger Volunteer Thursday night team at Gio’s Garden. Courtesy of Meredith Braza

This semester, two teams of four volunteers assist Gio’s Garden weekly for their Date Night program, a night-time care program for kids birth to age 6 with developmental disabilities and their siblings. One group volunteers on Thursday nights, the other on Friday nights.

Kristin Schmidt, program director of Gio’s Garden, says the goal of the Date Night program is to provide families who have children with disabilities a safe and nurturing place where they can take their kids so they can have a night off.

“The families have expressed that it’s important because it allows them time to be able to do something for themselves,” Schmidt says. “Oftentimes when you have a child with disabilities, you find yourself being very stuck in the routine of that child. And siblings sometimes suffer as well as relationships between parents.”

Badger Volunteers have been helping with direct care for the children who come to the Date Night program at Gio’s Garden. Schmidt says the volunteers have allowed Gio’s Garden the ability to offer more family and sibling programming so they can offer families a diverse set of options for support. To start the partnership, Gio’s Garden reached out to Badger Volunteers last January. The partnership started this fall.

Badger Volunteers Coordinator Reuben Sanon says Badger Volunteers is all about bridging campus and the community, and the Gio’s Garden partnership accomplishes that.

“The community that Gio’s Garden represents is one that can uniquely benefit from the time and energy Badger Volunteers have,” Sanon says. “The experience also broadens the student’s perception of need and possibilities in our community. Mutually beneficial partnerships are what we’re all about here at the Morgridge Center for Public Service and Gio’s Garden is a perfect example of that kind of partnership.”

Whether through playing trains, making puzzles, engaging in imaginative play, snuggling during a movie or helping the kids eat their snacks, the volunteers are there to provide a nurturing environment for the young kids.

Gio’s Garden is a respite care center for kids birth to age six who have developmental disabilities. The Badger Volunteers help provide them with support. Courtesy of Xai Xiong

UW senior Meredith Braza, Badger Volunteers team leader for the Thursday night group, says she has always wanted to volunteer for Gio’s Garden and she “could not have been more excited to see it there” on the Badger Volunteer’s list of partnerships for this semester. As soon as Braza saw it on the list, she knew she wanted to be a leader for the volunteer group this semester.

“I find so much joy in interacting with small children regardless of their ability level,” Braza says. “I know I can look forward to Thursday nights going to Gio’s Garden. I’ll be focusing on Gio’s Garden and the kids and not focusing on the stressors of school.”

On one of the nights Braza was volunteering she spent most of the night with a “really cute” one-year-old boy with Down syndrome. Braza helped feed him applesauce, watched him play with his reflection and snuggled with him while they watched a movie.

“It really relieved some of my own stress, and at the same time I was relieving stress for his parents,” Braza says.

Around 700 UW–Madison students take part in Badger Volunteers each semester. Courtesy of Xai Xiong

So far, Schmidt says UW’s volunteers have always “jumped right in” to wherever Gio’s Garden needs help. Schmidt says both the Thursday and Friday night volunteers have been willing to do whatever staff have requested of them, even stuff pamphlets on a night where there were not any kids at the program.

Overall, this experience has changed Braza’s college career for the better. She loves improving the lives of small children and simultaneously providing their parents with support.

“I hope they continue to have teams come to Gio’s Garden,” Braza says. “It’s been an invaluable experience for me.”

This upcoming spring, Gio’s Garden is already on the list of partnerships for Badger Volunteers.

Tags: outreach