A Small Hand for Big Hearts
May 7, 2012 | Chicago, IL
Anyone walking into a preschool classroom for the first time is likely to be overcome with the cuteness of it all—tiny tables, tiny chairs, and tiny people moving purposefully from one activity to another. This was no exception for Barb Hartnett of Hinsdale, IL, who began volunteering in the Rainbow Room, a 3-5 year old classroom at Erie’s Child Care Center, last July. What started as a summer commitment blossomed into an ongoing relationship between Barb and the children of the Rainbow Room, “I get so much more out of it than they do, the kids are great!” Said Barb.
Getting over how cute the children are, may be impossible, but Barb quickly learned how much actually goes on in a preschool classroom. In her first few visits, she took the time to observe the children’s daily routine and their interactions with teachers. “It was an eye-opening experience to see children learning all the skills they need for kindergarten,” she said, “The teachers are great, they’re so patient.”
Through observation, Barb learned how to best support the classroom—helping with meals, joining children in constructive play, and reading books to small groups. The most meaningful aspect of Hartnett’s volunteer experience, after nearly a year of volunteering, was the relationship she built with the children. “Every day at naptime, the same little girl comes to me with a book and asks me to sit next to her and read—I love it,” said Barb.
Despite visiting only once a week, the children not only remembered her name, they sought her out to play, to get help tying their shoes, or to hold their hands while on a walk. She learned that helping with even these simple tasks provided support for both the children and the teachers. “When I’m there, I feel like I can make a difference,” she said.
Those moments when she was more than just another adult in the room, when she was looked upon as a friend and a teacher, somehow simultaneously, kept her coming back each week. “It was very easy to volunteer. The staff was so friendly, everything was so well organized, and they’re such wonderful, loving kids,” said Barb, “I always feel good when I leave!”
As Barb Hartnett found out, a small hand goes a long way in supporting the children and families who are at the heart of Erie’s programs. Erie Neighborhood House continues to thrive because of dedicated volunteers like her. As her story with the Rainbow Room continues to be written, why not start writing your own?