Volunteering for children with special needs is rewarding

Carolyn Bennie

By Carolyn Bennie

This past December, I started volunteering at Tessa’s Place, a day care center in Bettendorf for those with special needs.

My work with the toddlers or pre-school children has brought new meaning to the term “tugging on heart strings.”  I hope that these stories will brighten your day.

Hand-In Hand is a nonprofit organization developed by two families, Joanie and Dave Steil, and Mark and Vinnie Smith.

When the Steils’ daughter, Tessa, passed away in 1999, they created the child care center as a wonderful way to keep her memory alive and honor her beautiful spirit.


They now offer programs for those with different medical, physical and mental needs from ages 6 weeks to 21 years.

My first day at Tessa’s Place passed in a blur and I struggle to remember exactly what happened. I do remember bright colors and children laughing. I do know that I was first assigned to a young boy named John. Although I was to pay particular attention to him, I could also spend time with other children. John is a little boy all the way.  He has a big smile and an even bigger heart. The other day he witnessed a little girl who had fallen down outside and proclaimed to the rest of the playground “WIPE OUT!”

After noticing that I was a bit preoccupied with another small boy who giggles excessively at some of the silliest things and often refuses to sit anywhere but on a staff member or volunteer’s lap, John explained calmly, “I got her. I got her.” He then proceeded to attend to the little girl who turned out to be just fine.

And yet, one of the most heart-touching moments came from Max, who is easily one of the quietest toddlers I have ever known. Unaware that he knew my name, I was caught off guard when he responded “Goo-Bye Caryn” after my farewell one afternoon. 

The phrase “tugging on heart strings” could not be better applied. I finish theses stories with a smile on my face and I hope that you do as well. Coming next week, more stories of the special children who teach me more and more everyday.

(Carolyn Bennie is a senior at Assumption High School in Davenport. She is writing these articles as a part of her senior religion class service project.  Children’s names have been changed for privacy purposes.)

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on