TAMIU Students Share Time, Hope with Special Children
Posted: 12/4/14

TAMIU Students Share Time, Hope
with Special Children at Jill’s House

This season of giving is shining a bright spotlight on a group of Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) student volunteers who recently traveled to Buda to provide care, hope and a weekend of much-needed rest to parents of children with disabilities.

The students, eight from TAMIU’s College of Education and one from the College of Arts and Sciences, spent their own money to travel and volunteer at Jill’s House, a non-profit facility providing short-term, overnight respite for children with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Jill's House


Texas A&M International University students Nydia Benavides, Alejandra Martínez, Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Tonya Trepinski, Daniel González, Monica García, and Barbara Benavides recently volunteered at Jill’s House, a non-profit facility providing short-term, overnight respite for children with intellectual disabilities and their families in Buda, Texas.

A non-profit organization affiliated with the McLean Bible Church, it provides a safe and fun place full of adventure.  It offers tailor-made activities for children with special needs ages 6-17, and provides parents and caregivers time to rest and recharge.

The students heard about the volunteer opportunity from Dr. Tonia Trepinski, TAMIU assistant professor of education through her classes: Low Incidence Disabilities and Issues in Disabilities Through the Lifespan.

While at Jill’s House, they helped serve children food and interacted with them through games as well as arts and crafts. As a faith-based organization, Jill’s House provides chapel twice a day as well as daily fellowship among the staff and volunteers before and after the campers sleep.

Barbara Benavides, TAMIU special education graduate student, said volunteering for one weekend at Jill’s House helped her appreciate the challenges parents and families face when caring for children with disabilities.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Benavides said, “I loved it so much. You read about various disabilities in textbooks, but for me it was a blessing to go because I was able to see firsthand what the disabilities were about and their physical traits while having the chance to learn from these kids and have fun with them.”

Barbara at Jill's House

Barbara Benavides, a Texas A&M International University special education master’s student, accompanies children to lunch while volunteering at Jill’s House in Buda, Texas. Affiliated with the McLean Bible Church, Jill’s House provides a safe and fun place full of adventure and tailor-made activities for children with special needs and a much-needed, short-term respite for their parents.

Benavides said she was especially impressed with a child at Jill’s House who has Asperger’s Syndrome.

“You read in textbooks and see how intelligent children with Asperger’s Syndrome are and how they can become experts in a particular topic, but I had not met anyone like that until I went to Jill’s House,” she said, “This child’s favorite topic was Pokémon. I’m 23-years-old and I’m having a hard time understanding those topics, but I learned so much listening and interacting with them.”

Daniel González, an English major, said he jumped at the opportunity to participate as a volunteer because it sounded like an adventure and a chance to experience something different.

“We had a great time,” González said, explaining volunteers were busy playing with the children at all times, “Through those activities, you really didn’t have a second to yourself and there was no down time. You were there with the kids all the time, so you start seeing this person as they are and learn everything about them.”

Through his interaction with the children at Jill’s House and watching the advanced level of knowledge and expertise they displayed about popular video games such as Minecraft, González said he learned there is a unique place for every individual in this world.

González, himself once an avid gamer, said he was able to appreciate the children’s high level of intelligence through a common medium: gaming.

“If anyone else had gone, maybe they wouldn’t have known how much ability this individual has,” González said, speaking of one child in particular he met at Jill’s House, “Because I could speak his language, I could tell people, ‘You have no idea the concept and ideas that this individual has.’ ”

Dr. Trepinski said working with children with special needs teaches students who are looking into a career in special education a valid hands-on experience.

“Working at the Camp gives you the opportunity to test the depth of your own commitment to that kind of work and before you make the full investment in education and training,” she said.

Trepinski, who said she would like to encourage more volunteers from Laredo to participate in Jill’s House, added that volunteers learn that some of the difficulties special children face are related to the way they are perceived and treated by society in general.

“Your attitude toward people with special needs will be altered for the good, and you will have a better understanding for everyone with differences,” she said.

Nydia Benavides, a TAMIU Communications Disorders student, said her volunteer experience at Jill’s house was eye-opening.

“It’s amazing because they are all kids with disabilities, but regardless of their disabilities or impairment, they were so happy and appreciative of the little things that we sometimes take for granted,” Benavides said.

A mother of 6-year-old twins, Benavides said she learned much from working with a girl with Down syndrome at Jill’s House.

“Just working with her, it made me appreciate my kids growing up healthy,” Benavides said, “I give a lot of credit to the girl’s mom and all those parents at Jill’s House. It’s hard enough to be a parent, but to be a parent of kids with disability, it is extremely hard.”

For more information about TAMIU College of Education programs or volunteer opportunities at Jill’s House, please contact Dr. Trepinski at 326.2684, e-mail tonya.trepinski@tamiu.edu or visit offices located in the Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library, room 419G.

The Spring Semester 2015 at TAMIU begins Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015.

University office hours are from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at prmis@tamiu.edu