Decorate the Pleasantville Cottage School for the Holidays

On December 3, 2011, several members of the Pforzheimer Honors College took a trip to the Pleasantville Cottage School to decorate some of the residence buildings for the holiday season.  From 10:30 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon, Honors students worked to bring festive cheer to the campus.  Upon arriving, students listened to a brief presentation by Phina Geiger, the Director of Volunteers for the various programs at the Cottage School.  She explained the differences between the specific areas on campus, which include the Pleasantville Cottage School, the Edenwald Center, and the Gateways program.  She included some important guidelines for the volunteers to follow, such as how best to interact with the residents, possible topics for conversation, and reminding us to be wary of giving out personal information and making promises to the adolescents and children while we were working in the cottages.  She went on to explain just how important volunteers are to creating an enjoyable experience for the students during their residency.  Ms Geiger made it clear to us that the Cottage School children enjoy the company of volunteers who are choosing to spend time with them on their own, and not as part of their job.

After the presentation, the Honors College group was divided and sent to three different cottages. A group of female students including myself, was sent to the Gateways cottage, which houses young women between the ages of twelve and sixteen who have

been exploited and trafficked.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a few of the students, most of whom were still sleepy but excited to see us. Some of them

were eager to help us create decorations and decide where everything should go.  The group was given some readymade holiday decorations as well as a variety of

craft supplies that were utilized to add our own unique

touches to the living space.  The Pace volunteers and a few of the students replaced bulletin boards with wrapping paper, covered doors, hung stockings along the banister of the staircase, and hung up garland and bows just about everywhere on the main floor of the cottage.  In a short period of time, this institutional setting was brimming with holiday cheer that Ms Geiger herself stopped by to praise our work.

This was not an entirely new setting for me as I have been working at the Edenwald             Center of the campus for over six months.  However, the unique             opportunity to spend some of the holiday season with such a special population was a sincerely heartwarming experience. My personal favorite part of this event was when the students opened up to our volunteer group and got involved with this festive project by letting us know how they wanted their cottage to look. I was glad to see them excited about decorating to ultimately making their home a warmer place, even if just for a little while.