At a “Meet and Greet” gathering on JCCA’s Westchester Campus recently, JCCA CEO Ron Richter spoke to an intimate group of The Cottage Schools’ volunteers about their engagement with our young residents. More than 500 women, men and children volunteer to tutor our students, visit them weekly or monthly at lunch time, plan birthday and holiday parties for them and participate in other activities. Here is an excerpt from his remarks:

The beauty of our volunteers is that you all see the strengths of our children immediately. You find what is wonderful in them and all of your energy is about drawing that out, discovering what they want to do and exploring it together. It may be ice skating for the first time, making jewelry or going to a Knicks game. You don’t focus on what our kids CAN’T do, only on what they CAN do.

Many of our young people have spent much of their life being told why they are not normal, why they need to be separated from their family, why they have to be treated differently, why they are not good enough or smart enough. Our volunteers send them exactly the opposite message – you communicate to them that they are just like other kids and that you want to be with them not because you have to be with them but because of how interesting they are.

Sadly, disappointment is what many of our kids are conditioned to expect. In their brief decade and a half or so of life, there may have been spurts of consistency of love and commitment from an adult — perhaps a year here, two years there — but these relationships often end in deep sadness and loss. Their parent or caretaker lets them down and these children see that as their failing. In contrast, our kids are amazed that their volunteer comes back every week, every month – and keeps caring and loving them consistently.

This constancy renews their sense that people can care about other people — that there is humanity in their world. People whom they have never met — who don’t have to come and be their friends, mentors, buddies or tutors, but who just do it out of the kindness of their heart and spirit send them a very powerful message. For your love, your constancy and your profound commitment to our children, we are all grateful.