The Art of The Gift: A Child Learns the Joy of Volunteering

The Art of The Gift: A Child Learns the Joy of Volunteering

By Lena Rivkin


I wish I knew what came first- my parents incredible spirit of volunteerism or having a child with autism.  Since I was born after Phillip, and since our parents have passed away, I may never know.  I suppose it doesn’t really matter- whether Phillip’s special challenges awoke my parents to dutifully attend to children with special needs, or if my parents were attuned to people with higher risks and higher needs all their lives. But what I do know is I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who taught me early on about the gift of giving.


All year long my parents collected toys and books donated by companies.   Then they’d invite friends over to wrap the gifts. I loved how the food and drink and laughter made these nights feel like a holiday party. My parents even included me when we went to hospitals to give the gifts to children with special needs.   Since I grew up with a severely autistic older brother, I wasn’t uncomfortable surrounded by children with special needs.


We are a giving country. Americans donate and volunteer more than any other country in the world.  But there is an untapped reservoir of volunteers- our children.   There are endless benefits to raising our children with a spirit of volunteerism: making a positive difference in the lives of others; realizing that no matter how young, a child can still help and teach; helping others creates empathy and tolerance which in turn may combat bullying.  Feeling needed helps develop self-esteem and problem-solving skills; and ultimately, helping others opens a child’s world to the enormous possibilities that lie within them.


My favorite day of the year is the Very Special Arts Festival (VSAF).  Art, dance and music is created in a blissfully frenetic pace by the hundreds if not thousands of children with special needs who pour into the Music Center Plaza in Los Angeles, that is held every year.


The much anticipated event this year was May 3rd and for the artists and volunteers and especially for the students, teachers, aides, caregivers and families from the Los Angeles County Office of Education Special Education Programs and the Los Angeles Unified School District schools, it was Christmas, Hanukkah and everybody’s birthday, all rolled into one huge party!  Suzy Boyett, program and events manager for the Music Center and her wonderful staff, tirelessly produce the Very Special Arts Festival.


Prep for the Very Special Arts Festival starts months in advance.  The Music Center Education Division comes up with the Festival’s annual theme and each contributing artist develops a workshop around that theme.  This year’s theme was “Into The Future”.  Other artists create workshops incorporating “Into The Future” with musical, theatrical, dance and even gardening activities.  As a visual artist I was to develop an art project for the children to create.


Along with sharing my creativity with children, another blessing of the Festival are my good friends who volunteer to help.  Liz Loya and Charisse Hewitt Webster take off from their super busy lives and careers to help out. This year was even more special (for me) as Tyler William Webster, who is Charisse’s 7-year old son, took the day off from school to volunteer.


Tyler, who is very kind, bright and imaginative, was very eager come to the festival and help out.  As the thousands of students poured into the plaza, Tyler shyly retreated into the arms of his father Randy.  As almost all the Special Education students from LAUSD attend the VSAF, it must have been deeply overwhelming for Tyler.  But as the children swarmed our workshop, Tyler became more comfortable with helping the children, and lost some of his self-consciousness.


My heart overflowed as Tyler gently guided, directed, aided, and encouraged each child to make the best possible mask they could create for themselves.  We worked for hours in the mid-day sun with hundreds of kids and were rejuvenated and refreshed by each new wave of childish excitement and the joy of creation. The children loved having a fellow child who treated them as a friend.


Tyler, my youngest volunteer, was as happy as the children he was helping. By the end of the day, it was clear Tyler had lost all sense of the other children being different than he. They were all working together making their masks that represent the future.


Giving a monthly check to a deserving charity goes a long way to help others.  But the greater gift lies in donating actual time and talent.  And I don’t mean donning hair shirts and giving away all earthly belongings and living in a yurt.  Even an hour a week at a retirement home or as a Big Brother or Big Sister can make a meaningful difference in another person’s life.  The unexpected dividend is what the giver receives- a true sense of purpose, of having done even one simple act of kindness to make another person’s life better.


Because of ongoing budget cuts and more austerity measures, volunteerism is thriving. A friend and her teen sons volunteer weekly at a homeless breakfast.  Big Sunday is a fast growing California organization dedicated to volunteerism and community service. Upon visiting the website I was struck that almost all of the volunteers pictures on the site are children, which proves you are never too young to volunteer.


Parents teach their children how to be people.  Good parents teach their children how to be citizens of the world. Great parents teach their children that the best gift one can receive is to give.


If more of our children could be involved in volunteering and we could have more Very Special Arts Festivals and Big Sundays, we’d be looking into a very special future, for all of us.


Lena Rivkin, M.F.A., is an artist and graphologist living in Los Angeles






Water Safety for Special Needs Children

Having a child with special needs means that parents need to take added precautions. No parent wants to see their child injured, especially when that injury is the result of someone else’s negligent actions.

The weather is getting warmer which means it is the time of year when a hazard to children becomes more prevalent—drowning. In many cases, these are avoidable tragedies. It is important that this summer while enjoying your local pool or waterpark you ensure that your child is safe from drowning. explains that, “drowning is a silent killer—it happens quickly and quietly. Water safety is important for any family, but this is especially true for families of children with special needs.”

While visiting a place such as Dorney Park’s Wild Water Kingdom in Allentown, parents should make sure that the attractions they enjoy are age appropriate and safe for your child. As much as we would like to rely on trained life guards to watch over our children, that is not always the case. A child can still drown or suffer serious injury in a pool or at a waterpark that has lifeguards, which is why you need to take the proper precautions.

It is scary to consider, but it is unfortunately a fact that, 25 percent of all drowning victims are under the age of 14 and in most cases the child was out of sight for less than five minutes. The leading cause of these accidents is negligence be it due to inadequate fencing, failure to post proper warning safety signs, failure to supervise young children, or failure to maintain the pool area and equipment.

Tips to Keep Your Child Safe in the Water

  1. Make sure you have the proper life jacket for your child.
  2. Always make sure while at a waterpark or pool that there is a qualified life guard on duty. This does not mean you do not have to watch your child, it is added safety.
  3. Your special needs child, or any child for that matter, should be within arm’s reach of an adult.
  4. Take an Adaptive Aquatics Class like those offered at your local YMCA.

You should never allow your child into the water if they are not adequate swimmers. Also, when you arrive at the water park or local pool be sure to inform the lifeguards of your child’s condition such as if they are deaf. If your child is injured while at a waterpark or pool and you believe it was caused by the negligence of another speak with an attorney today to learn the options available to you.


Personal injury lawyers in Allentown:

Serious injury in a pool:


Special Need Network is proud to present this guest post from Richard Console of Console & Hollawell P.C., a personal injury law firm based out of New Jersey.

Mr. Console has been in business for the past 18 years and is not only a legal expert, but also dedicated to promoting the safety of children. He is a parent of two young boys and also of the board of directors for a non-profit organization called Danielle’s Foundation for children with traumatic brain injuries. He is also sponsoring a local Walk Now for Autism Speaks team in the area.

Autism & Aspergers Services ~ Inclusion Fusion Learning Center in Lakewood

Inclusion Fusion Learning Center
6500 Del Amo Blvd.
Lakewood CA, 90712
phone: 562-637-3023
Autism & Aspergers Services
Tutoring ~ Academic Support for Students with Special Needs
Homework Club
Social Skills Weekly Groups {Pre-Teen to Early Adult}
Parent Services
Summer Social Skills Camp
Educational Consultation

Summer Camp-2012 will begin April 1,2012

Thirty-Seven: 10 Myths About Females With Asperger’s Syndrome

Everyday Asperger's

Sam’s new book is available on Amazon. Sam’s new blog is Everyday Aspie. Sam’s company is Spectrum Suite. (2016)

Written by Aspergers Girls at Everyday Aspergers blog.  March 2012

Aspergers Girls holds a Masters Degree in Education. One of her sons has Aspergers Syndrome. And she has Aspergers Syndrome.

10 Myths About Females With Aspergers

1. Aspergers is Easy to Spot

Females with Aspergers are often superb actresses. They’ve either trained themselves how to behave in hopes of fitting in with others and/or they avoid social situations. Many grown women with Aspergers are able to blend into a group without notice.

2. Professionals Understand Aspergers

No two people are alike. Professionals have limited experience, if any experience, with females with Aspergers. Professionals have limited resources, limited prior instruction and education, and little support regarding the subject of Aspergers. Comorbid conditions with Aspergers are complex. Females seeking professional help…

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20 Years of Autism: A Mother and Son Perspective

Autism Speaks Official Blog

This blog post is by Kerry Magro. recently started a new video blog called “My Autism My Voice,” where he discusses a variety of topics. If you would like to contact him directly about questions/comments related to this post he can be reached at or through his Facebook page here.

On January 15th of this year I turned 24. To be honest this milestone really didn’t mean much to me besides knowing that in a year I could rent a car for the very first time. 2 weeks later I received an email from a parent in regards to helping her grandson who has PDD-NOS. Maybe more than any of the other emails I had received before, this question was very detailed asking for several questions regarding topics such as an early diagnosis, therapies, early childhood, how to approach the diagnosis, etc. Even though I’ve…

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