BY JASON BARON, M.S., Ed. Last semester, VIP’s Social Action group decided that they were going to run a food drive along with preparing a meal for families who stay for extended periods of time at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island.
At the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), nestled in Central Islip, NY there is a U.S. Department of Education approved, three year comprehensive transition and postsecondary program known as the Vocational Independence Program (VIP). The program serves students with learning differences with a curriculum that focuses on social, independent living and vocational skills. For the past 20 years, VIP has offered a variety of elective courses in addition to the mandated program classes. One popular choice is the Social Action group whose objective is to identify needs in the community and be responsive to those needs. Students are encouraged to formulate their own ideas, develop a plan of action, and get approval from the Director. Students in the Social Action group are required to participate in the decision-making process which will determine the course of action necessary to achieve the goals set by the students. In the past, the Social Action group has raised money for Breast Cancer Awareness, relief for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and Make a Wish Foundation. The group even adopted a whale one year!
Carol Jockle, a veteran instructor at VIP and the creator/facilitator of the Social Action group dating back to 1999, had this to say when asked why she saw the need to create such an elective for students with disabilities: “The Social Action group taps into the student’s strengths and provides a way for students to see that they can help other people. It empowers the students to know that although they may have a disability they still can be a contributing member and play an important role in society.” In addition to the community contributions of the Social Action group, Jockle says the students are making a contribution to themselves. “The strides I see in students being able to make decisions and work cohesively as a group, taking their personal time to plan and accomplish their goals develops a work ethic that will enhance their lives moving forward.” Jockle also notes the educational aspect of Social Action, stating: “The interaction between the students and the community they serve is unbelievable. This helps foster communication while further developing cognitive skills.”
Last semester, the group decided that they were going to run a food drive along with preparing a meal for families who stay for extended periods of time at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island located in New Hyde Park, NY. The group’s plan to run a food drive in addition to preparing a complete meal was a homerun because the food donations stocked the pantry at the Ronald McDonald House for future use. Not only were the students volunteering to prepare one dinner, the donated food will continue to feed families long after the students have traveled back to Central Islip. Since it was November at the time, and Thanksgiving was around the corner, it seemed fitting that the group chose to volunteer to feed families in need. The Dinner Program at the Ronald McDonald House was developed as an additional way to assist the residents by providing them with a home-cooked meal. Groups of friends and business associates use the House’s kitchen facilities to prepare a weekend brunch or daily dinner for the families and children staying at the House. Food must be prepared on site to ensure safety from possible food poisoning and is guideline-enforced throughout Ronald McDonald Charities, which oversees every Ronald McDonald House. Volunteers of the Dinner Program not only help the families but also enjoy team building with their group of friends or business associates.
Part of the curriculum at VIP focuses on independent living skills and students were ready to demonstrate what they’ve learned in the classroom and showcase their ability to work safely and effectively in the kitchen as a unified team with a clear goal. Genevieve Mazzella, a sophomore at VIP, had this to say about her experience volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House: “It’s a great thing what we did at the Ronald McDonald House. These families need to eat and shouldn’t have to worry about having to cook or buy food themselves.” When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, she responded with, “I liked all the different rooms that they have there.” Genevieve also added that she enjoyed working with her peers making the dessert. Betti McClellan, who has been the full time Director of Volunteers & Programs at the Ronald McDonald House since 2011, knew 18 years ago, when her young daughter’s 4th grade class volunteered to collect items from the organization’s “Wish List”, that she would one day return. “The first visit to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island was life-changing for me. I always knew I would someday return to do more,” said Betti. In 2010, Betti became the part-time House Manager and in 2011 became responsible for all the volunteers and programs at the House. “Every day I am surrounded by amazing people with hearts of gold who are making a difference in the lives of others. Our volunteers are truly the heartbeat of the House, and we could not do what we do without each and every one of them.”
When asked how she thought the VIP students did preparing dinner, Betti replied: “We looked forward to having the NYIT students cooking. They prepared the most delicious Italian feast! It’s a day our families look forward to with pleasure. Everyone loves to feel needed and at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island our families and staff appreciate every volunteer and all they do to make our house a home each day.” This experience proved to not only be beneficial for the families that were served, but also gave the VIP students an opportunity to show what they’ve learned in the classroom and display it in real-life situations. Planning the event, working collaboratively as a team, following recipes and kitchen safety guidelines all helped to give the students a sense of pride and accomplishment, since it led to such a successful event for the Ronald McDonald House Community. It is our hope that this will be an annual event that will promote and ensure a spirit of volunteerism for all VIP students.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jason Baron, M.S., Ed. is Coordinator of IEP Services with New York Institute of Technology’s Vocational Independence Program, based in Central Islip, NY