(Facing camera, left to right) Cheryl Riether '05, Courtney Reynolds '05 and Matthew Ward '04 and their fellow Campus School Volunteers were on hand for the annual Alumni Hockey Game Feb. 7 in Conte Forum, one of the group's many fundraising efforts. (Photo by Suzanne Camarata)
They're One Terrific Group of 'Buddies'
Campus School Volunteers looking to build on their success
By Reid Oslin
The Campus School Volunteers are confident they can top the record $105,000 they raised last year to benefit the Boston College Campus School's mentally and physically handicapped students.
But no dollar amount can surpass the personal satisfaction and fulfillment shared by the 200 volunteers who take part in one of the most successful service organizations on campus.
In addition to sponsoring a variety of fund-raising events throughout the school year, the volunteers serve as teacher's aides and Campus School "buddies," reading and spending time with the special needs youngsters.
Lynch School of Education junior Courtney Reynolds has been a "buddy" to a Campus School student during the past three years. "I don't ever think I could speak in terms of her disability," Reynolds said, "only her ability. She has become a part of my family, and I'd like to think that I'm a part of hers."
Reynolds, a native of Bridgewater, NJ, joined the Campus School Volunteers in her freshman year. "I had some experience with special needs kids. I have a friend from home with special needs, and, in a way, this helped remind me of home." She is now a vice president in charge of recruiting new members.
"Working with the Campus School children is by far the best experience I have had at Boston College. Whenever I talk about Boston College, this is something that I bring up."
CSOM junior Donnie DiCarlo of Lynbrook, NY, is equally enthusiastic about his volunteer service. "When you walk into Campion Hall [the site of the Campus School] your world changes. It motivates you. It's a wonderful experience and it never gets old."
Campus School Volunteers co-president Suzie Pomponio, an LSOE senior, cites the wide variety of on- and off-campus events sponsored by the group as a key factor in its successful fund-raising. Earlier this month, the volunteers sponsored an Alumni Hockey Game that drew former players from Boston College and Boston University for a Conte Forum exhibition. More than 135 students have already signed up to run in this year's Boston Marathon for cash pledges. The group's annual spring charity golf tournament also has proven to be a popular event.
Other campus groups, such as the Bostonians singing ensemble, the cheerleaders and the BC Pep Band also contribute their talents to various Campus School events.
The Boston College Dance Ensemble donates the proceeds from its annual show to the Campus School, Pomponio said. She predicts that the volunteers will surpass the $105,000 fund-raising benchmark.
"This is my life at Boston College," said Pomponio, from Huntington, NY. "It's a tight-knit group."
Campus School administrators say the volunteer efforts are much appreciated by the school's staff. "These students bring a sense of hopefulness," said Adj. Assoc. Prof. Philip DiMattia (LSOE), director of the Campus School. "The children are totally dependent on adults in their lives. The students help bring out [the children's] humanity. They do it in the way they communicate with them, sit with them, just hang out together.
"The children may be locked in, but they recognize the people who are generous and kind to them," DiMattia said.
Campus School coordinator William Lambert agrees. "[The volunteers] bring so much life. There is no disability in their eyes. You have to see it and experience it to believe it."
Junior Natalia Martinez, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, has a brother who is autistic. "I can empathize with these children, having dealt with it before," the psychology/linguistics major said. She first worked in the Campus School as part of a Pulse Program initiative, but soon expanded her involvement into the volunteer program. "Just watching the children be happy and content makes it worth it."
Junior Cheryl Riether of Wyckoff, NJ, also has a brother with special needs, so she was quickly attracted to the Campus School organization when she arrived at Boston College. "This just may be the happiest place on this campus," the biology major said. "The kids here love you no matter what."
Not every Campus School Volunteer has prior experience with special needs children. Senior Mike O'Connor, a Carroll School of Management accounting major, said when he first signed up to help, "It opened my eyes. Then, it changed my life."
O'Connor, who heads up the group's annual golf tournament and Boston Marathon participation projects, said, "It's the best thing I have ever done. I don't do it just to make a difference. I also do it because I enjoy it."
Some undergrads have unexpected introductions to the Campus School, such as through community service assignments given by Student Development. More often than not, according to Lambert, "after they do their 10 or 20 hours, they end up staying and volunteering."
DiMattia said, "We are part of something that is very special to the community and very special to Boston College. There's no self-promotion. It's simply doing what they feel good doing. I have to feel what they take away from this experience will hopefully be with them for the rest of their lives."