***DONATIONS ARE FINISHED! Thank you Coady, Mrs. Lawes, and Tess for your generous donations! I can't wait to see the kids faces when I walk in next week with the gifts and tell them about your support. I'll let you know how it goes!
I am Joe Calvaruso, a children's psychiatric aide at a hospital in Westchester, NY, and I am raising money to buy the children on my inpatient unit and the adolescent unit gifts for the end-of-year holidays. Many of the children I deal with suffer from severe emotional/behavioral/cognitive disturbances, many of which can be attributed to traumatic experiences, insufficient home care and biological predisposition - conditions imposed upon the children, conditions the children have no control over. I have had the great opportunity to interact and work with these kids over the past year and I can't begin to describe the potential for an incredible future I see in every one of them. Making that potential a reality, however, is an uphill battle I cannot fathom. I talk to the nurses that have worked in this same psychiatric division of the hospital for 20 plus years and many of them tell me that several of the children "graduate" to the older units and live a life constantly in and out of the hospital. I don't want that for these kids, not my kids.
Working as a psychiatric aide in general is tough because you want to have a positive impact on all of the people you come across, but you know in the grand scheme of life that you may not have much of an impact at all. With kids, it's different (at least for me). I hold the belief that I can get through to these children, more so than I could if they were adults, because they haven't completely mentally matured, they haven't seen enough of life to really be stuck in a particular way of thinking, feeling and behaving, and they can be willing to work with you wholeheartedly given the right reinforcement.
The end-of-year holidays are among us and my dream is to give these kids not just momentary hope and happiness this time of year, but a lasting, meaningful experience during their stay that will hopefully be something they reflect on as they mature. I think there are several ways to accomplish this.
Education, I believe, holds the key to freedom and happiness. I would love to see more useful, meaningful, developmentally-friendly, educational books, DVD's, games and activities on the units. I would love to create a more information-rich environment for them to explore in their free time, even if they don't explicitly realize what they're learning just yet.
But education also takes on many forms, two forms being that of sensory stimulation and socialization. For instance, now that winter is almost here, the weather is getting colder and many of the kids do not have jackets, pants, gloves, hats, etc., thus preventing them from using the playground outside (the only outside time they might get over the several weeks/months they might spend in the hospital). I'd love to stock-up the donation closet with this sort of gear for the purposes of providing the kids with some fresh air and more variety in the environment to explore. It's important to note that some of the homes from which these children come are severely lacking in terms of age-appropriate stimulation and guidance (a 4 year old child I worked with, diagnosed with Intermittent Explosive Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, lived in a homeless shelter with his mother before arriving). The more experience they can get their hands on at the hospital, the better I think they might be down the road.
Something else I'd like to see and have readily available to staff on the units are psychologist/therapist-created group activity books. While many of the psychiatric aides at the hospital have knowledge of and experience within the field of psychology, many of us do not hold professional degrees and thus might be cutting the kids short in terms of transmitting useful information and guiding behavior effectively when holding discussions and activities. I believe having some sort of therapist-certified, group activity "cookbook" would be perfect for the kids.
It's a big wish-list, a wish-list I frequently dream of, but I wouldn't be reaching out to you if I didn't think it could be done, especially during this most giving time of year. I'm asking that you donate any amount of money you can to provide these kids with gifts for the holidays that will help stimulate, fascinate and challenge them on a day-to-day basis, in the hope of impacting their future for the better. More obviously, I think it would also do a world of good for them to know that there are people out there they haven't even met who not only want to see them succeed, but are also going out of their way to invest in them to better their chances of success and happiness.
All of the gifts purchased with your donations will remain on the units so that future children who end up in the hospital have the same opportunity to engage in these potentially life-benefiting experiences. Donations for holiday gifts will be accepted through this Sunday, December 16th, as to ensure enough time for shopping, wrapping and delivery. If you have any questions or would like to recommend any gifts in particular, please contact me at JQCalvaruso@gmail.com. All inquiries and suggestions are welcome!