Filling my Heart by Helping Kids Thrive
Guest Blog By Nirm Blatchford
Do you know that game, Two Truths and a Lie? I love to throw in – “I became an aunt at the age of eight.” People always think that’s the lie – and are surprised to find out it’s the truth. For as long as I can remember, there have always been babies, toddlers, kids, or teenagers in my life. Fast forward many decades later and my ten nephews and nieces have gone on to marry and have their own kids, making me a great-aunt to 11 great-nephews and great-nieces.
That’s probably why I spent most of my career working for children’s non-profits. When my husband and I moved to Nanoose Bay from Burnaby in 2020 and I couldn’t see my great-nephews and great-nieces for almost 2 years because of COVID, I was drawn to the Child, Youth and Family programs at SOS for volunteer work.
I got involved with TIC TAC, a program for kids aged newborn to 5, where the staff and volunteers play with the kids in the playroom while their parents enjoy a cup of coffee in the adjoining room. But more importantly, it gives the kids an opportunity to build social and emotional skills.
Coming out of COVID isolation, this program was more important than ever. We now had a new generation of children who had interacted only with their immediate family. Stepping into the centre for the first time was a huge step, not just for the kids, but their parents as well. Most of the kids hadn’t had the opportunity to meet other kids their own age.
It took extra time to earn the trust of the kids. My approach was to start by just being there near a child. If a child was at the table doing a puzzle, I sat at the table and did my own puzzle, I would make conversation with the parent first and then slowly ask the child their name or age.
Gradually as the weeks went on, we started to see a transition in the kids. At first it was allowing their parents to leave the room, then it was playing next to other kids, and now many weeks into the program, the kids are interacting with each other at playtime, and they hardly look for their parents, knowing that they are close by.
I remember one little girl who barely said anything her first few weeks. She enjoyed doing puzzles so she and I would start out at the puzzle table. Then we would move around the room playing with the toys. She usually came with her mom but one week she came in with her dad and she wouldn’t let him leave the playroom.
I sat with her and her dad for a while and then I casually asked her if she would make me tea, she thought about it for a few seconds, then she grabbed my hand and walked me to our pretend kitchen where she proceeded to not only make me tea, but ensured I got some pretend fruit and vegetables. When it came time for circle time, she insisted I sit next to her on the carpet.
At the end of playtime, just as the kids were getting on their shoes to leave, her dad made a point of seeking me out and said, “thank you, she’s very comfortable with you and she trusts you.”’ Well my heart grew 10 times its normal size that day. So yes, the kids are learning very valuable life skills, but I think I’m the one who’s getting the most out of the program because when a kid says, “Nirm come play with me,” my heart explodes every time, and I can’t wait to return the following week.
I am so pleased to now be working with SOS as a casual/on-call employee for their Child, Youth and Family programs. When I initially took on the volunteer role, I had no intention of it becoming a job as I had retired from jobs where I had raised funds for children’s programs on the mainland. But once I started volunteering with SOS, I realized that I wanted to work directly with the kids and not be behind the scenes. I am so looking forward to this new chapter in my life and I want to thank SOS for giving me the opportunity to continue to make a difference in my community.