Teen mentors at Project CHILDD volunteer to help other kids—and end up learning their own lessons

Teen mentors at Project CHILDD join the program to work with kids who have developmental disabilities and often end up learning their own lessons.

Ryan Schiller, a junior at Pelham Memorial High School, has been going to Project CHILDD sessions since he was 11 years old, attending with his brother with autism. His brother was his inspiration for signing up as a mentor last year.

“The thing that surprised me the most was how bright these kids can be, which is not realized by most people,” said Schiller. “They can be bright and good people that actually help you and talk to you.”

Project CHILDD, which stands for Community Help In Learning about Developmental Disabilities, is a program of Pelham’s Project Community, a 37-year-old youth service organization that is also known for its annual color run fundraiser. Project CHILDD recruits middle school and high school mentors for its mission of serving as an outreach program for children and teens with disabilities, allowing them to express themselves and providing socialization with others their age.

According to Camille Drago, the Pelham Project CHILDD clinical director, the goal of the teen mentors is to be sociable with the other kids, share ideas and feelings and be good role models.

Raphael Reis, a junior at PMHS and another teen mentor, said he feels that Project CHILDD lets him open up and interact with people.

“It gives an opportunity to learn more about things you may not have had much experience with, like people you wouldn’t interact with normally in daily life,” said Reis.

Meghan Stokes, a seventh-grade mentor at Ursuline Middle School, said the teen volunteers have the opportunity to do art, yoga and other calming exercises with the kids they work with. At her first session, she was the youngest mentor.

“I’ve learned that all people have a deeper meaning to themselves,” said Stokes. “It’s a very good experience to learn about others and yourself too.”

Teens interested in becoming a mentor for Project CHILDD can view the overview and application here.