Feature articlesJanuary 2024

Volunteer’s compassion and patience lend support to youngsters in Child Psychiatry

Desire to give of oneself is shared by many of the JGH’s youthful volunteers

Almost from the moment Alexandra Taverna began volunteering in the JGH’s Child Psychiatry program, she knew she had come to the right place: One of the pupils, a little girl around 9 or 10, approached her in the classroom and excitedly said, “Sit next to me, sit next to me. I want you to help me.”

This openness and warmth quickly won Ms. Taverna’s heart and strengthened the 22-year-old volunteer’s commitment to assisting in Child Psychiatry, despite the demanding workload of her university studies.

In this respect, she has a great deal in common with the growing number of younger volunteers at the JGH—and in facilities across CIUSSS West-Central Montreal—who are setting aside time in their busy schedules to give of themselves for the benefit of others.

Although the children at the JGH Centre for Child Development and Mental Health are coping with psychological or behavioural difficulties, Ms. Taverna says she’s continually struck by their willingness to ask for help or to simply enjoy the reassurance of having a supportive adult by their side.

“They absorb everything you say,” she notes. “They pay attention and they’re smart, even if some of them may not feel they are. If they have low self-esteem, you have to keep encouraging them and not let them put themselves down. They face so many barriers that they think there’s no way past them. So it’s important for me to be there and say, ‘You can do it!’”

“It’s our privilege to have such talented and motivated students among us and we look forward to adding more of them to our ranks.”

About 55 children—ranging in age from 7 to 12—are taught for four days a week in the Centre’s classrooms, supported through a collaboration of parents, teachers, therapists, nurses and allied health professionals. On the fifth weekday, the pupils go back to their regular schools, with the goal of eventually returning there on a full-time basis.

“It’s so gratifying for us to welcome these young volunteers, who are students today and may just become the healthcare professionals of tomorrow,” says Marko Obradovic, Chief of the Department of Volunteer Services for the JGH and CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

“We’re attentive to their needs and aspirations and we’re happy to open the window of healthcare services to them as they consider their career choices. It’s our privilege to have such talented and motivated students among us and we look forward to adding more of them to our ranks.”

Whenever Ms. Taverna works in a classroom (usually once a week for three hours), a teacher is always present. “If a child has questions or doesn’t understand how to do something, they might need me to explain it from a slightly different angle,” she says. “Sometimes, if all they just need is a little more time to process the information, I help them digest it.”

The objective, she says, is to get the children to the point where they can sit quietly, do their schoolwork and control their emotions by drawing on the advice they have received from their teacher, Ms. Taverna and the Centre’s other professionals.

Last May, when Ms. Taverna began volunteering at the JGH, she provided assistance for a brief period in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and in the Pharmacy Department.

You can be a volunteer!

As a volunteer, you’ll bring comfort and hope to users of health care and social services, while helping to lighten the workload of grateful staff. Plus you’ll bring out the best in yourself!

To find out more about volunteering at the JGH or in any of the facilities of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, visit the website of the Department of Volunteer Services or contact the department by email.

Over the summer, at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, she participated in the MISSIVE internship program, which is geared to students who are interested in pursuing a career in a health-related profession.

On returning to the hospital last September, she transferred to Child Psychiatry to complement her studies at McGill University in psychology, sociology and political science. She is considering a career as a psycho‑educator or as a teaching assistant for children who need extra support.

“Academically, volunteering puts you at an advantage,” Ms. Taverna says. “I want to be sure that when I decide on my career, I’m making an educated choice, based on what I like, what I don’t like, what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced.”

As for the personal impact, Ms. Taverna says volunteering “really helps build empathy, which many of us may sometimes overlook, especially with our lives being so busy. Everyone’s always rushing from point A to point B, and we tend to ignore so much of the world that’s right there in front of us.

“Working in Child Psychiatry has also given me a deeper appreciation for life’s less obvious milestones—like a child sitting still for more than five minutes, completing a page of schoolwork, taking a break and en completing another page.

“For me, there’s real excitement in spending time with them. Even though they’re up against a number of difficulties that they’re trying hard to overcome, it’s gratifying to hear them express a sincere desire to succeed at what they’re doing and take the next big step.”

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