SANFORD — College student Lauren McLean watched with a smile as a group of 2-to-4-year-olds bent over their drawings, coloring with enthusiasm.
“Working with them is a joyous occasion,” said the Central Carolina Community College student from Sanford. “I get to learn from the kids and they learn from me — it’s an interaction.”
McLean was one of 10 students in college instructor Anne Carver’s “Child, Family, and Community” early childhood education class working with young children during the Stevens Center’s Party, Paint and Playtime summer camp during June and July.
The Central Carolina C.C. students and nursing students from UNC-Chapel Hill collaborated on planning and putting on that summer camp as well as Kids Can Connect, a summer camp for 5-to-8-year-olds, also held at the Center. Both camps brought together children with and without disabilities.
The nursing students gained community public health experience; the community college students applied what they had learned in class about working with children with and without disabilities in the same group.
The mission of the Stevens Center is to provide inclusive opportunities for those with disabilities. UNC-Chapel Hill nursing students have done internships at the Center for the past three years, but the summer camps were the first collaborative projects. The Center has also worked with the human services program at the community college, but the summer camps were the first collaborations with the early childhood education program.
“I wanted to find volunteers that would benefit from working with the children and I thought of the early childhood education students,” said Roger Bailey, director of the Stevens Center. “For me, success is measured in how people’s attitudes change about people with disabilities. One of the college students said that being part of this outreach helped her realize kids are just kids, whether with a disability or not. I’ve been very pleased.”
The two groups of students worked together to create a variety of activities, from coloring and reading to catching balls and balancing — activities that would enhance the skill levels of camp participants, whether or not they had a disability. Central Carolina’s “Music and Movement” class, under instructor Nancy Wiser, created a notebook of activities for the camps. The notebook was donated to the Stevens Center for use with future children’s programs.
All the activities were planned to give the children opportunities to use both small and large muscle groups; interact with each other and play together; and — most important to the children — have fun.
It was also a lot of fun for the students.
“I love interacting with the kids,” said Shatara Farrow, a Central Carolina student from Sanford, as she tossed a ball with two new young friends. “I plan to be a teacher and I’m enjoying this experience.”
Then she added with a smile, “I’m coming back next week, on my own time, to volunteer at the Center because I’m enjoying it so much.”