When Dr. Suzan Jaffe started having health problems that forced her to close her practice as a cognitive behavioral therapist, she found herself in search of a volunteer opportunity that would enable her to give back to the community and not be a strain on her health. Her health prevented her from speaking for prolonged periods of time, so she tried to look for opportunities that didn’t require much talking. Then she discovered the Mental Health Association of Southeast Florida’s Listen to Children program. “Finding the Listen to Children program was a perfect fit. It was perfect, not just because I listen more than speak, but with my professional psychology background and over 40 years of experience in health care, working with young children is a very comfortable setting and this program has given me a renewed sense of purpose.”
The Listen to Children program is designed to provide certain children with a mentor or caring adult who engages the child in a “listening session”. These children are identified by teachers or guidance counselors. They may be experiencing family troubles, behavioral issues or signs of isolation and low self-esteem. Once a week, the volunteer assigned to the child will visit the child, listen to him or her and then help problem solve.
Dr. Jaffe’s favorite part of the program is that it “provides an opportunity for these children to have–even if only for 30 minutes a week–an adult ‘listener’ and ‘friend’ who is not there to teach, grade, or discipline, but someone to talk with, play with and have one-on-one time with on a consistent basis. Developing a sense of trust seems critical for these kids.”
After retiring from her practice, Dr. Jaffe found the Listen to Children program after she became involved in the Re-engage for Good program through HandsOn Broward. The Re-engage for Good program aims to engage retired baby boomers to use their time, talent, and years of experience to improve the community by volunteering. HandsOn Broward matched up Dr. Jaffe with the Mental Health Association of Southeast Florida’s Listen to Children program, and her mentorship began.
However, Dr. Jaffe feels that the Listen to Children program has become short-staffed. “There are definitely–from what I see–many more children in need of ‘Listeners’ than there are volunteers. I know that funding to the Mental Health Association for this program has been cut and this breaks my heart. If the trainers cannot be funded, how will they be able to recruit & train more volunteers?”
The Listen to Children mentors give a certain kind of attention to the child that he or she cannot necessarily receive from school. “There is no way that the teachers in our public school system can devote this kind of special attention to each child, especially those in particularly difficult transient or chronic situations, like living environment, behavioral issues, bullying, etc.”
For new Listen to Children volunteers, Dr. Jaffe offers this advice: “take the training sessions seriously, and review all your notes and extra materials before beginning. Get your fingerprinting done as soon as you pass the training session course, as it can take a very long time to get clearance. Attend monthly meetings with the Advisor assigned to your group of listeners. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear about other listeners’ experiences and brainstorm, as well as get professional advice/guidance and support from a Clinical Psychologist. Each child is different, and take the time your first two sessions to see what their individual interests are. Try to make sure the activities are age-appropriate and varied.”
Dr. Jaffe is so committed to the Listen to Children program that she has actively advocated for their cause: writing letters in an attempt to help the invaluable program get more funding.
If you are interested in volunteering with the Listen to Children program, click here for more information. Thank you, Dr. Jaffe, for all that you do!