Dressed in a bright yellow Project Sunshine shirt, junior Sara Schneiderman watched a little boy go toward the bins filled with ingredients to make play dough that she and several other Ithaca College students brought into the classroom at the Racker center.
Schneiderman is the vice president of Project Sunshine, a club affiliated with the larger national nonprofit organization. The organization aims to meet the social and emotional needs of pediatric patients and their families.
In addition to donating knitted and crocheted items to hospitals, Project Sunshine started a direct service project in Spring 2019, which allowed a group of eight to 10 club members to volunteer at the Racker center throughout the semester. The Racker center, located about 20 minutes away from the college, is an organization that supports individuals with disabilities and their families.
Schneiderman said she chose to volunteer at the center for an opportunity to interact with young people and to continue her passion for service. She attended the Racker center direct service program in Spring 2019 and worked with preschoolers with special needs. At the Racker center, she planned hands-on activities and crafted with the children during visits.
“We got to make slime and playdough with them, and that was so much fun,” Schneiderman said. “[The children] were so patient and willing to work with us.”
Schneiderman said a hands-on volunteering partnership had not happened before because it was difficult to find a place that allowed student volunteers.
“There are a lot of restrictions that come with having volunteers,” Schneiderman said. “It’s a lot of liabilities for both the club and for the place that is having college students that don’t have full degrees yet. It adds a whole other element to it.”
Julie Dorsey, associate professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, recommended the Racker center to seniors Elizabeth Jesch and Molly Noel, co-presidents of the club, after they talked about potential partners for Project Sunshine.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for them to engage with the community, and I answered their questions about activities that would be developmentally appropriate and gave some things to consider in general about working with children,” Dorsey said.
Jesch said she enjoyed watching her fellow club members interact and have fun with the preschoolers.
“For me as a leader, that was just really nice to be able to see the happiness and joy that the students were getting from those interactions and the happiness and joy the preschoolers were getting from us being there too,” Jesch said.
Kim Higgins, early childhood director for Wilkins Road Preschool at the Racker center, said the Project Sunshine members have made a positive difference in the lives of the preschoolers.
“One of the missions of Racker is really to help all people understand that we are all truly more alike than we are different,” Higgins said. “The college students that come and visit us bring a really incredible, positive energy to our children. They just idolize and look up to the college students.”
This semester, the club plans on continuing its partnership with the Racker center. It will also donate crafted items and craft kits to the Project Sunshine headquarters in New York City, which then distributes the items to children’s hospitals throughout the country.
The club’s first visit to the Racker center will likely be in October, Jesch said. Members interested in the direct service program will go through a training session.
“They need to be attending weekly meetings, and the people who are going to the Racker center need to be representing Ithaca College in a positive light,” Jesch said.