Freshman Hailey Fesai, who is wearing a Taylor Family Foundation T-shirt. (Photo by Elise Sommerhaug)

Freshman volunteers with special-needs children in Bay Area

Freshman Hailey Fesai spends some of her weekends in the Bay Area, volunteering for the Taylor Family Foundation, a Livermore-based nonprofit organization that helps Northern California children with illnesses and disabilities.

Q: How did you find out about the Taylor Family Foundation?

A: My family and I used to live in the Bay Area, and I love charity. While I was researching some volunteering opportunities, I came across it and decided to try it out.

Q: Why did you start volunteering there?

A: It started for me when my mom told me that she knew these really great people who could give me some community service hours.

The foundation was providing a burn camp for children who are burn victims, and I was like, “Let’s do it!”

I’m really passionate about children who are burn victims since my father’s a firefighter. And charity is just one of my favorite things in the whole world; if I could do it forever, I would.

Q: What was your first volunteering experience like?

A: After I decided that I wanted to volunteer for them, my mom contacted them, and we got in touch with a woman named Kristina Kind, who is the coordinator. She told us that the burn camp wasn’t being hosted at that time.

So I ended up going to Camp Arroyo — which is located in Livermore Valley — during the summer to help with autistic kids. The camp lasted for two days, and there a lot of other volunteers.

It was like a summer camp. I got to the camp, and I set up games such as a beanbag toss.

When the kids got there, it was challenging to connect with them; The social aspect was challenging. When I was working at the art booth, the kids with less autism could complete the crafts, but the other kids were having trouble.

When I tried having a conversation with them, their speech consisted of slurred speech and repeating the same words multiple times. One kid constantly replied, “Blue! Blue!” to a question that I had asked, and blue had nothing to do with it. I had never done anything like this before.

What I found most interesting was the parents and being able to connect with them on a deeper level and understand what they were going through.

Q: What are some of the features of Camp Arroyo?

A: You can compare it to our (freshman class) trip to San Francisco. It’s like a nature retreat, and there’s cabins because they run overnight camps too. There is also a ropes course just like there was in San Francisco. When we were on the ropes course in San Francisco, one the people there was wearing a Taylor Family Foundation hat, and I thought that was really cool. Along with a ropes course there’s also a rock climbing wall and a pool and so much more.

It’s just this really big property, which is perfect for the camp.

Q: Have you helped any other kids?

A: The day after I volunteered with the autistic kids, I got to volunteer with kids who were battling cancer or going through cancer treatment. One of the activities they had there was a dunk tank for the doctors. The kids could put their doctors in the tank and “get them back” for putting them through cancer treatment. And the doctors were amazing about it.

There was face painting and clowns and different games. I was in charge of the art table, and there was this little girl who kept coming back with her older sister. Seeing her smile made me smile.

It wasn’t as challenging as it was with the autistic kids because I could connect with them. I remembered my own foot surgery and how hard it was for me going through that.

Q: How did going through your own surgery help you with the kids with cancer?

A: When I was in kindergarten, I had my foot surgery, and I was in a cast for about six to nine months. I was always in the hospital or in my house, and I couldn’t go anywhere else. That was really hard for me, and I think those kids feel the same way. They are either in the hospital going through their treatment or at home.

Q: What’s your favorite part of volunteering?

A:  My absolute favorite part of the Taylor Family Foundation and volunteering for these things is the smiles on the faces of those little kids. It’s the best reward. Seeing the appreciation on their faces. It just warms my heart knowing that I’m doing something to help them, even if in the littlest way possible.

Q: How often do you volunteer?

A: It really depends on my schedule because I get busy with sports. I usually try to volunteer at least once a month. Whenever I go down to volunteer, I volunteer for the whole day, about six to eight hours.

Q: How would someone volunteer for the Taylor Family Foundation?

A: Go to their website and contact them through there. I would suggest contacting me, too, so that I can help you through the process. It’s a bit difficult since it’s located in the Bay Area, but I can get you in contact with Kristina Kind and some of the counselors as well.

—By Arikta Trivedi

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