Actions: Volunteering in Extend-A-Care; mentoring; nutrition education; and holiday assistance

Submitted by:  JaNet Barkley-Booher

"Technically, my volunteer efforts are not directed toward kids with physical disabilities, but toward kids in general and mentally ill adults, which often involves kids with physical and/or emotional disabilities.  Also, I’m not really doing anything new, as I have been doing most of it for a long time.  So, here is the stuff I do to give back for my good fortune in health and life.

Year round:
Extend-A-Care for Kids, Inc board member:  EAC provides after school, school break and summer care to elementary aged kids in Austin, Hays and Del Valle schools districts, including many tuition scholarships for low income kids.  Affects about 2900 kids in the Austin area.  It probably keeps some kids from becoming disabled, as they likely would be latchkey kids without the subsidized care.

    1)  Signed-up again to mentor a child at the elementary school near my home.  I’ve done this for 5 years.  Kids have been either low income or have emotional issues.
    2)  For the 2nd year, organized and helped conduct the “Eat a Rainbow” program for 2nd and 3rd graders from 3 schools through the Travis County Master Gardeners’ Program — to encourage kids to daily eat fruits and vegetables reflecting the colors of the rainbow so they have healthy bodies.  I’ve helped conduct it 4 times.  This year we did the program with 400 kids; last year it was about 350 kids.

November- December:
Collect, purchase and encourage others to help in creating 450+ Christmas gifts for mentally ill adults and their children in the Austin area (served by Austin Travis County Integral Care (formerly ATCMHMR)).  These gifts contain new or like-new XL+ T-shirts, tooth brushes/paste, toiletries, socks, games, individually wrapped snacks, fun stuff (whimsy items), children’s books, toys and stuffed animals, etc and average about $10 each.  We wrap them and Santa helps present them at a consumer party held a few days before Christmas.  For many, it is their only holiday celebration.  I also collect and buy Christmas decorations and after the party consumers take them to decorate their home or sleeping area.  A local church provides the BBQ meal and a local band plays music.  It is a festive event for a very needy population.  They and their children are delighted to receive a gift and a meal and have a good time.  My sister and I started contributing to this party at the request of an ATCMHMR/Integral Care Rehab Therapist some 15 years ago and it has grown in attendance each year (from about 50 to now over 435 people). Integral Care uses the party for improving socialization skills of their consumers and providing them with some holiday cheer.  Integral Care is looking for a large facility on a bus line for this year’s party, as we have outgrown Fiesta Gardens’ capacity.
    If any of your friends wish to help with any part of this effort, please give them my email.  As the economy gets worse, the more gifts are needed since more consumers and their children attend the party.  I’m thinking we need at least 500 wrapped gifts this December.  I have found from my friends and neighbors that even they are helped by donating stuff they don’t need in their homes — stuff that is in excellent condition and they have saved or received for some time and just cluttering-up their houses.  They like to see it go to someone as a nice surprise/gift for Christmas.  So, the giving itself has a “starfish effect” for them as well as for the mentally ill consumers."

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