Something to sum up the holidays

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Human Growth and Development Class Co-ordinates Christmas Party with Algoma Public Health’s Infant and Child Development Program

By Kiernan Green, Superior Heights Senior Student

For the 34th year in a row, Christmas came early for the clients of Algoma Public Health’s Infant and Child Development Program, thanks in large part to the efforts of Paula Serravalle and her twenty grade 12 students of Superior Heights’ Human Growth and Development class. Serravalle is the Department Head for Family Studies at Superior Heights. She has worked alongside the program with her class for the past fourteen years. Each holiday season, they help to prepare the program’s annual Christmas party held at St. Andrew’s United Church on December 9th.

a-dsc_0069The program itself, Serravalle explained, is for children 5 years old and under who are faced with developmental delays, or the risk of developmental delays. “If the parent knows that their child will be born with Down Syndrome, or if they’re born with, say, cerebral palsy, or if the parents themselves have a mental health issue and thus have some issues taking care of their child, Algoma Public Health comes in and helps them. It’s the clients of that program [Infant and Child Development program] that this Christmas party is for,” she clarified, during a spur-of-the-moment interview at the entrance to St. Andrew Church. It was then that she and her twenty students were busy making the final touches for the party, set to begin at noon.

a-dsc_0057Serravalle has been lending her class to the preparation of the event for over a decade. “When I first taught at Sir James Dunn Secondary, I was asked if I could spare a few students from my parenting class to help with the Christmas party. I thought, why should I spare two when I can give you the whole class? That was in 2002.” From there, the annual involvement of Serravalle’s class has grown, to where both groups are reliant on each other for their efforts. The class gains valuable hands-on experience with younger children that fits with their class expectations, while the program gains the extra twenty or so hands needed to set up, run, and take down the party events. “The event is over at 2, but we don’t leave until the last dust bunny is gone,” said Serravalle.

a-dsc_0091The grade 12 students set up and maintain five different activity stations for the young children. Although both the students and children have fun during their time together, each station is designed to help strengthen the children in a specific area of development. “They’re looking at things like pincer grip, manual dexterity, fine motor skills, co-operation, sharing and taking turns, and so on,” Serravalle explained. “As much as they look like fun, they’re very much made with purpose.” This was visible as the party began in full swing at noon, as planned. The students quickly had their hands full with the 75 children attending, making Christmas themed arts-and-crafts and playing games.

a-dsc_0014The adult guests of the party had their own praises as well. “I enjoy that the children have a lot of fun with Santa Claus and the activities. I find every year it’s gotten better and better, as there’s so many activities for the kids to do, as well as parents,” said one mother, who herself was mentally delayed. She has happily frequented the event for several years. “I’m planning on coming as long as [my daughter] is invited.”

a-dsc_0028It’s for this mother, and other struggling families of the Infant and Child Development program, that the annual Christmas party has its incredible purpose. Many of the program’s clients struggle with poverty, along with the stress of parenthood and expectations during the holiday season. “For a lot of the clients of the program, from a socio-economic stand point, this is their only Christmas. These are the only gifts that they will get. A good chunk of the clients live below the poverty line,” said Serravalle.

Serravalle also explained the party’s benefit for the Infant and Child Development program staff. For the program’s five hundred clients between Blind River and Wawa there are only six case workers. “It’s such a huge relief for them, because they don’t get to see their clients enjoying life so much. They’re usually seeing them struggle.” Thanks to the work of the students in setting up the party’s activity stations and Christmas decorations, the Christmas music sung by the church choir, and of course a cheery visit from Santa Claus himself, all in attendance enjoyed the party and its incredible atmosphere of warmth and Christmas cheer.

“It’s a huge eye opener for the students, as well. I don’t think they know that in this community there is poverty. It’s very humbling, and I think that they go home and realize how lucky they are,” Serravalle reflected. “From this the students learn gratitude, acceptance, and tolerance. Of course there’s this perception as well, of teenagers being self-absorbed and so on. It’s really nice to be able to come here and show people that’s not how teenagers – rather, emerging adults – act. With this event, our students interact with Algoma Public Health. They interact with young children, and young families too. This is where parents, and people in general, get to see teenagers in a different light. They’re looking through a different lens when they’re watching my kids.”

Just like the holiday season itself, the Christmas party was an event enjoyed and benefited by all in attendance in separate ways. From the those living with developmental delays who could enjoy a stress-free afternoon of Christmas joy, to the students who each had their own compassionate experience serving those with needs, all of those involved celebrated in the kindness and cheer intrinsic to the Christmas season, and to the Sault Ste. Marie community itself. To donate to the next annual Infant and Child Development program Christmas party, call and inquire at Algoma Public Health’s direct line: (705) 942-4646.