Dominique Johnson scooped up a handful of blue spaghetti and dangled it over a piece of art paper as a young girl watched, smiled, and reached for the spaghetti to create some art of her own.
Her smile and her participation are why Dominique Johnson is heading to Stepping Stones Center every day this summer.
Johnson, 17, is one of hundreds of volunteers who are spending their summer making sure children with disabilities have a great experience at Cincinnati’s oldest summer camp for children with disabilities.
"Coming here you're working with different people and some different situations. It moves you out of your element," Johnson said.
"I'm not used to working with children with disabilities. To come here and do it and be good at it, is all right with me."
Johnson is a camper buddy in the Fireflies unit of 14- to 16-year-olds.
The first week of camp, Johnson was named Volunteer of the Week.
"He comes every day and the kids adore him," said Day Camp director Amanda Kay. "The boys love to rough-and-tumble with him. He's extremely patient."
That's the key to volunteer success, Johnson said.
"You got to have patience, a lot of patience. You have to learn their needs. We have some campers who don't want to participate. You have to think outside the box, find different ways to get their attention and include them in the group."
When one camper wanted to sit in the pool house, Johnson piqued his interest with descriptions of the huge flashlight up at the unit site. They made their way to the site together.
"When we got there he forgot all about the flashlight," Dominique said. That may have been a good thing.
They have a flash light, it's just not a really big one," he said.
When the summer's over, Johnson said he'll be taking some lessons with him for life.
"If I ever have an child with autism or another disability, I'll know how to work with him," he said.
Stepping Stones Center, with sites in Indian Hill and Batavia, is a United Way partner agency serving close to 1,000 children and adults with disabilities annually in year-round and summer programs including preschool, adult programs, autism education, respites and the signature summer day and residential camps. Johnson is volunteering at the Stepping Stones Day Camp in Indian Hill, which serves up to 168 campers with disabilities daily. A second Stepping Stones Day Camp is in Batavia at the agency's Camp Allyn site.
Both programs need volunteers each week to act as camp buddies in small groups. Each unit of 10 to 12 children includes paid camp counselors as well as teen volunteers.
Disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cognitive deficits, and an array of multiple disabilities and medical conditions. Trained staff and on-site nurses assure campers are safe while they enjoy a traditional camp experience with swimming, boating, crafts, music, games, friends and fun.
The spaghetti painting was part of the Sensory Spot activities, where camper projects excite the senses with unusual textures and hands-on activities. Volunteers receive training and build lifelong friendships, said volunteer coordinator Sarah Bosley Woeber.
"We have volunteers who come back every year," Woeber said. Church groups, neighborhood groups, scout troops and organizations are welcome as well as individuals.
Woeber said the greatest volunteer need is in August.
The camp day is 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 13. Volunteers must be 13 or 12 and entering the eighth grade.
For volunteer information, contact Sarah Bosley Woeber, (513) 831-4660 ext 27 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteer information is also on the Stepping Stones web site, www.steppingstonescenter.org.