Stories of Inclusivity: How an Engaged Y Volunteer Helps Children Embrace Diversity
Nan Connelly, volunteer, and Amy Millard, Nashua Site Director, have known each other since 2016. That was the year Nan first started volunteering at the Y, “This is funny because I wanted to volunteer, and I googled preschools and the Y came up. Another funny coincidence was that when Sarah Sutherland interviewed me, we realized we had met in 1997, when Sarah was just sixteen.”
Since then Nan has volunteered in our Nashua preschool program, Creation Station, helping in the classroom and with the children. So when Amy asked Nan to research books about inclusion that would be shared with the kids Nan was so honored. “Nan is very open about her disability and wants kids to ask questions” Amy shared, “The more that they understand and are accepting, the easier it is. It’s important they understand we’re all the same.”
Nan has Cerebral Palsy, which affects her body and muscles, but does not affect her at all cognitively. “My mind is okay but my body doesn’t cooperate” she says. Nan uses a wheelchair for her mobility and a communication board as one method of communicating. “When I was ten, my mother and I, along with a speech therapist and a consultation with a non-verbal specialist from Boston Children Hospital put my word board together and I have used it ever since.” Currently, Nan uses her iPad, with voice output, to “talk” with the kids in the Creation Station program. The iPad is a great and effective tool for her to use with the 3 to 5 year olds. Nan shared “I had a notebook with pictures until I could read.”
Nan is a constant fixture in the preschool program and makes a great impact on the children, she relies on an aide to do the things she cannot. Lisa, her friend and aide, shared “It is critical for kids to recognize people with disabilities, it develops them into compassionate adults.”
When Amy asked Nan to look into books on inclusivity, Nan quickly did her research and found some she felt would represent her and others best. Since then the staff have started to read the books to the children, who absolutely love them, and they plan to expand their library in the near future. The shared respect and admiration between Nan and Amy is so apparent, they care deeply for each other and anyone can see that in their exchanges. Nan’s favorite things about volunteering are working with the kids and support from Amy along the staff in the classroom. “I always say I like kids better than adults.” As for Amy she feels equally grateful, “All of our parents love the fact that we have Nan.”
Nan shared stories where she has faced great adversity in the past, but not at the Y. “I feel so happy and loved and appreciated.”
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