Written by Karen Gellender and Rachelle Blidner Friday, 17 June 2011 00:00
As the academic year winds down once again, students in schools all over the country are celebrating with classroom parties, featuring pizza, cookies, and talk of upcoming summer plans. However, on June 15, the students in the community service class at Jericho Middle School were holding a classroom party for a different reason: to celebrate the completion of approximately 60 “Duduza” dolls, together with their fellow students from The Brookville Center for Children’s Services (BCCS) on the AHRC campus. BCCS accommodates students with mental retardation, multiple disabilities, traumatic brain injury and autism.
The pattern for the colorful yarn dolls was originally created to comfort AIDS-affected children in South Africa, hence the title; “Duduza” is the Zulu word for comfort. However, the 60 dolls that the local students have created will be donated to both MercyFirst St. Mary of Angels Home in Syosset, and Blanca’s House, a non-profit organization of volunteer health care professionals who donate their time to provide free medical treatment to underprivileged children and their families around the world.
Alex Dash, a student in the community service class at JMS, explained the value of the dolls for children in other countries who need surgery:” When they come back with a doll...it just makes the parents feel that they were in good hands- that they were safe,” said Dash.
The idea to create the Duduza dolls came from BCCS Transition Supervisor Patty Edwards, who got the idea from a friend. After making a prototype and realizing that finishing the dolls would be a difficult task for her students, she decided to try to utilize the pre-existing relationship between the two schools- for the past several years, JMS students from the community service class have been visiting BCCS with projects of their own.
However, the benefits of enlisting the aid of the JMS students for several months clearly extend far beyond getting the dolls finished faster; it was a rare opportunity for the BCCS students to step outside their comfort zone, but in a pleasant, exciting way. For months, BCCS students have been visiting JMS to work on the dolls, and experiencing an environment very different from their usual, close-knit group at BCCS.
“What’s been the best thing about this is the social aspect, and that’s the thing that our kids get the most out of,” said Edwards. “Anything else, we could just do within our school—fine motor [skills], the fun of creating something...but the social thing for our kids has been such an enormous benefit. These kids have been really great to our kids, and our kids love being in a typical school.”
Lauren Pietroforte, a student at BCCS, said that she enjoyed knitting the dolls, but her favorite part was making new friends. Richard Infante, also of BCCS, said he enjoyed discussing drawing, one of his favorite things to do, with the other kids.
On the Jericho side, it was a valuable learning experience as well, said Jill Kipnis, teacher of the community service class. “We’ve tried to model nice behavior...we worked together, and they taught us at the same time we taught them,” said Kipnis.
Several Jericho students said they found the project a bit difficult, but not due to any difficulty working with the BCCS students- it was the knitting! Students Jack Miller and Michelle Tiangco both noted that the mechanical aspects of the project were sometimes a challenge. Tiangco said that she found creating the Duduza dolls more difficult than other service activities the class had done, such as holding bake sales. With a creative project like this, “You take on another task that’s more challenging,” said Tiangco.
Naturally, some students enjoyed the knitting more than others- BCCS student Kiana Norman created 16 dolls, mostly by herself.
JHS students said they chatted about many different topic with the BCCS students while working on the dolls together—plans for the future, favorite things, and sports. “Anything you would say to a normal friend—just like they are now to us,” said Dash with a smile.
While scheduling issues still need to be ironed out, Edwards said she is cautiously optimistic that the two schools will collaborate on this joint service project again in the future.