College Students Befriend Disabled Teens in 5 College Area

College students are contributing to the success of therapeutic recreation programs at Hallmark Developmental Center in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Hallmark serves children and young adults with fragile medical conditions and severe neurological impairment. Having visitors several times during the week provides crucial social stimulation for the residents, and increases awareness in the community, according to Lisa Jakstis, Education Director.

The volunteers come from five nearby colleges --Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts. They interact the residents for a variety of reasons: credit, career exploration or just to “give back”, she said. Often they return for a second, third and fourth years.

Recreation Aide Isis Feliciano helps the volunteers plan fun and games to enrich each resident’s quality of life and to reinforce some of the functionality individuals work on in school or day habilitation programs.

“We know the residents are enjoying these activities because they laugh and make more of an effort to stay awake when they know (the students are) coming in,” Isis said.

The UMass Boltwood Project has been sending volunteers to Hallmark for more than 20 years. UMass Psychology major Melissa Huey volunteered two semesters before she became a coordinator for the service organization. Why does she do it?

“The experience gives me a different perspective on my own life,” she said.
To learn more about volunteering at Hallmark, contact Lisa Jakstis at LJakshtis@northnh.net