Happy Village International (HAVI) used to pair high school students with organizations that help people with intellectual disabilities so they could volunteer as mentors. But the students were sometimes asked to do administrative work instead, so HAVI decided to start its own program.
HAVI Friends sessions bring together mentors, who are usually students, and children with intellectual disabilities for two hours twice a month. The mentors and participants play games, sing songs and do other educational and stimulating activities. At the same time, they hold a support group for parents where trained experts lead discussions and seminars geared towards parents of children with disabilities.
Organizer Luiza Baez says the idea is to create a community-based support system for the parents and children while helping to reduce the social stigma that sometimes comes with having a disability.
“These families are building a community among themselves,” she said.
Right now, the participants range in age from 5 to 24. There’s no maximum age. The mentors undergo background checks and receive training and tips on how to handle a child who, for instance, doesn’t want to participate in an activity. Baez says the experience is also enriching for the mentors – she’s watched as reserved high school students break out of their shells while working with the kids.
There’s no cap yet on the number of families that can sign up, so the organizers are looking for more mentors to make sure each child has the most one-on-one time with their buddy.
The sessions take place two Sundays a month at the Centre Communidée, 137 St. Ferdinand St. in St. Henri. The next three will be held April 10, May 15 and 29 and start at 10 a.m. and finish at 12 p.m. The program is free but HAVI takes donations to help pay for the room rental and supplies. Snacks are provided. To sign up or to inquire about mentoring, call 514-917-5505 or email email@example.com.
For more information on HAVI and future session dates, visit facebook.com/happyvillageintl.