ONFE’s Volunteers in Education (OVIE) program brings volunteers from the community into classrooms, to help educators ensure the academic success and well-being of their students. To kickstart ONFE’s Volunteer Month, we’re featuring the incredible work from a team of volunteers at Bell High School, home to the Bell Bruins!
When we visited educator Julia Coe’s Developmental Disabilities Program at Bell High School to see what some of ONFE’s volunteers were up to, we were blown away by the impact they had on the students. Julia’s classroom teaches life skills to increase independence and offers opportunities to learn and grow for individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Julia is quick to point out how valuable her many volunteers are to her and her students: “They do amazing things. Volunteers make a huge difference.”
When asked why he volunteers, David replied, “It’s something to look forward to; it’s not a chore.” When he walked into the room, the students’ faces lit up; they were all very excited to see him. Last year, David entertained them with his many camping stories, and he even showed them how to make batteries with lemons!
We wondered if anything surprised David about his volunteer experience these last two years: “One thing that’s surprised me is seeing the students’ improvements in gym class. Monday morning is skating morning, so they all go skating. One of the students now skates for the entire hour. She went from clinging to the boards to skating around the arena. A lot of them never laced skates on before.” Volunteers are a huge help to Julia and her class; even volunteers who come in for an hour a week help provide needed one-on-support to individual students.
When Peter and Virginia arrived, the class buzzed with excitement. When asked about their volunteer work, they said that it gave them a chance to make a difference in their retirement. Virginia spoke about her initial reservations: “The first semester of the first year was a challenge. We weren’t sure how to help. We had no experience with people with these types of challenges. It’s hard to know if you’re making a difference. My recent highlight was when I was playing a card game with one of the students and she said, ‘I don’t want to go home’.” Peter added, “You get attached.”
The classroom builds a community that the students feel safe in and encourages them to return after they graduate; they are always welcomed back. Once a Bruin, always a Bruin! Even Emir, who’s only been volunteering in the classroom for two days, has built rapport with the students by cooking and cleaning with them: “The best thing I like about the students is that they don’t hate, they just love. They don’t expect anything back from you; they just love you unconditionally.”
Sheileagh, another volunteer in Julia’s class who drops in on Thursdays, loves getting out of the house and interacting with students as she typically works from home. When asked what she learned about herself from volunteering, she said, “I think I should have been a teacher! It’s an environment that feels very supportive and warm.” Every time she walks into the classroom, Darwin, a student, excitedly calls her name. “You feel like a movie star!”, said Sheileagh.
It is the impact that these volunteers make that helps students develop skills that they may not have the chance to develop elsewhere. Julia is a wonderful teacher who goes above and beyond for her students, but she insists that her volunteers are essential to her work: “I’m good because I have them.”
Want to make an impact just like David, Peter, Virginia, and Sheileagh? Become a volunteer in our community and help teachers like Julia make an impact on students! onfe-rope.ca/our-work/ottawa-volunteers-in-education/how-to-become-a-volunteer/