The sky was blue, the lawn was green, and the flowers by Washington Road had bloomed into a beautiful soft pink. Last Sunday was a day of sunshine and colors, and this was especially true at Campus Club, where Princeton Disability Awareness, a student organization dedicated to disability awareness, education, and inclusion, hosted its spring carnival.
The inclusive carnival brought together children with disabilities, along with their siblings and University student volunteers, for a day of fun activities and caring interactions. The children were placed in good hands to enjoy a day filled with themed arts and crafts, colorful balloons, outdoor games, interactions with Princeton student volunteers, and various student performances, while their parents were able to relax and perhaps get a nice meal on Nassau Street.
About 40 children were paired with more than 40 volunteers who had signed up via links shared by PDA in emails and attended a training session beforehand. The children were accompanied by their paired volunteers throughout the event, from 10 a.m. to around 3 p.m. In addition to interacting with the volunteers, student groups including break dance company Sympoh and a cappella groups like the Tigerlilies, Footnotes, and Wildcats performed for the children.
The carnival was all about the children. The carnival’s organizing team put a lot of thought into providing a wide range of activities that catered to the diverse interests and needs of children with disabilities and their siblings. This year, they came up with the theme of “outer space.” Children held “intergalactic passports” to explore different stations — or, rather, different territories in the universe — including a sensory room of cookie-decorating, an arts and crafts “sunroom” of galaxy jars, a balloon room, and an outdoor space of parachutes and bubbles. For the children, the three-floor space of Campus Club was truly transformed into a land of adventures and wonders.
For the University students organizing and volunteering, the carnival was also a truly magical experience because they got to interact with this group of lovely children. Student volunteer Hajrah Hussain ’17 said that it was her second time volunteering at a PDA carnival. As a senior, she was happy to be able to engage in a new volunteering opportunity. In addition to giving high praise to the well-planned activities, she shared her personal favorite interaction at the event: “It was truly touching to see her consideration for her brother, who was also participating in the carnival.”
Erika Ward ’18, current carnival planner and former president of PDA, said her personal favorite moment was when volunteers sang the song Hallelujah for a little boy. “You could just tell how happy he was because he was beaming,” she described with a big smile on her face. Ward expressed her appreciation of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Student’s support for PDA to put on the event. It is really pretty different from most other campus activities, since it brings in children and parents from outside of campus to interact with the Princeton community.
Mayya Velitskaya ’18, the current president of PDA, described the sense of fulfillment she was able to get in the simplest moment at the carnival: “I looked out the window and saw a kid sitting on the grass, just eating snacks with his buddy.” She also applauded the volunteers who all dedicated five hours of their Sunday to play with the children. It was admittedly a hard job to recruit and coordinate 50 volunteers, she said, but the caring and fun environment they created together was all worth it.
In the end, Velitskaya called attention to other types of work PDA does on campus apart from the fall and spring carnivals. This past fall, PDA hosted a conference aimed at informing parents of children with disabilities in Robertson Hall. Earlier this month on April 10, PDA hosted a seminar with a disability studies professor. Going forward from the care, trust, activities, and colors of April 23, PDA will continue to promote disability awareness in the Orange Bubble — and also open up the bubble a bit more with fun carnivals like this.