MHC Helps Holyoke's Homeless Children

Posted: March 6, 2007

Last semester students enrolled in associate professor of education and psychology Becky Packard's course, Educational Psychology, completed a Community-Based Learning project that put what they learned into practice.

Packard's students not only assisted in the classrooms of MHC's Gorse Child Study Center, they also used what they learned to help "Play Pal" volunteers who work with Horizons for Homeless Children in nearby Holyoke.

"I was so impressed by the dedication and creativity demonstrated by my students at Mount Holyoke," Packard said. "They were very excited to reach out to the volunteers at Horizons, and in turn, shared their positive energy with children who are living in shelters in western Massachusetts."

The Mount Holyoke students worked with different classes at Gorse to produce four "instructional scrapbooks" of activities. The scrapbooks contain photographs, artwork, and children's descriptions to help the volunteers at Horizons--many of whom aren't teachers--come up with ideas of activities to do with the children. Since Horizons has limited resources, the activities that the students chose were ones in which the materials are either easily accessible or adaptable. The activities are also open-ended enough to foster the creative process and appeal to a wide age range.

"A lot of the ideas the Mount Holyoke students chose had to do with sensory activities that we do with children. Those types of process-oriented experiences engage children and draw out creativity, emotion, and language," said Valerie Sawka, a teacher at Gorse who worked with the MHC students. "The activities the students picked, after they saw what was happening in the classrooms, were particularly effective for this purpose." Sawka, a "Play Pal" volunteer herself, pitched the scrapbook idea to other volunteers at a Play Pals workshop. They loved it.

"The Gorse teachers are accustomed to finding creative ways to use basic and recycled materials with children," said Janna Aldrich, acting director of the Gorse Child Study Center. "By making the activity books with the college students, the children had an opportunity to share their experiences and help other children. The project also provided teachers with a context to have discussions with the children about homelessness and ways of helping others."

One of the scrapbooks, called "Fun with Colors," focuses on some of the Gorse children's favorite activities: mixing primary colors to create new colors. As with all the scrapbooks, the pages can be removed from the book and are laminated so they can be taken to the project site and then wiped clean and replaced. "I hope that our book will … reach out into the broader community," said Rebekah Dutkiewicz '09, one of the students who worked on the "Fun with Colors" book.

"Going to Gorse and seeing all the resources and ideas those children have access to, and then trying to plan activities that can be produced on almost no budget for the Horizons children, really brought those disadvantages home," Emma Pettit '09 said. "I only hope that our class was able to help inspire the Play Pals and teach, as well as entertain, the Horizons children."

Some of Packard's students presented a hands-on workshop for the Play Pal volunteers using recycled materials in creative art activities. The scrapbooks that the MHC students created have been given to the Horizons staff who will distribute them to Play Pal volunteers at one or more of the various Playspaces provided by the shelters affiliated with Horizons.

Related Links:

Community Based Learning (CBL)

Becky Packard - Faculty Profile

Gorse Child Study Center