Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Want to be Like Them!

I have always had a huge place in my heart where people with disabilities reside. Since I was a little girl, my Grandma would take her daycare kids to the park to meet her sister (my Aunt Margie) and the disabled adults that she worked with. Having lunch with the amazing people Aunt Margie brought along, prepared me for a life of understanding and compassion for people who are in anyway different.I continued my wonderful experiences with my fellow high school students who had disabilities, as a peer tutor. This means that I spent a period everyday helping the students in the class with school work, life skills, and even got to participate in their P.E. classes. I still can't believe that I actually got credit for playing kickball with those amazing people!

In college, I had to participate in a Senior Capstone class. This was a requirement for all students to graduate. The Senior Capstone classes that we offered usually consisted of some sort of volunteer/community outreach program. Also, most of these classes were scheduled just as most college classes- meeting once or twice a week, for a three month term. Instead of choosing one of those classes, I opted to participate in a two week summer camp for teens with disabilities.

During those two weeks, I lived and breathed those kids! We helped them get ready in the morning, ate meals with them, participated in exciting camp activities (obstacle courses, fishing, hikes, canoeing, swimming, etc.), participated in plays, sang songs, etc. Those two weeks were the most emotionally and physically exhausting two weeks of my life (at least to that point), but it was also the most rewarding and life-changing two weeks I could imagine participating in.

After seeing the teens and their absolute love of life and their fellow man, I wanted to continue to keep that feeling going in my own life. I worked for a year at a middle school in the special education program. Once again, it was difficult and exhausting work, but the rewards that came with it were unimaginable! For the past few years, life has gotten in the way and I have had very few experiences with this amazing population. But last weekend that all changed!

The Bocce Ball Field
I spent Saturday morning volunteering with my mom and my sister Mystery, at the Oregon Special Olympics which was held in Newberg. After just a few minutes of talking and interacting with the athletes, the rewarding feelings and excitement to have these people in my life, returned like a dam breaking. I loved every second of it! The amount of love and compassion that those wonderful people possess is nothing short of inspirational.

Mom keeping score

Every athlete that competed in the games was kind to one another, while still giving their all every time they participated.  They cheered one another on (even those from other teams), they reminded each other of the rules without being rude or insulting, they smiled and showed great sportsmanship even when you could tell they were heartbroken at the outcome of the game. I wish everyone could be more like the amazing men and women I met over the weekend.

Mystery trying to stay cool
When I left the games on Saturday, all I could do was talk about how great of an experience it was. My husband (who had also participated in peer tutoring in high school) was soon convinced that he too should volunteer on Sunday. Although neither of us had signed up to be there, we showed up bright and early to offer our assistance. They were happy to have us, and day two was even more memorable than the last.

Our turn to play!
 Joe and I had such a great time, that we have decided to continue this as a family tradition. We will volunteer every year from now on. When our kids are old enough to help, they too will participate. We both have a passion for this population, and we want to pass that on to our children as well.
Joe enjoying the games

Not only was this a personally valuable weekend, it may also turn out to be a professionally valuable weekend as well. I have always had the long-term goal to continue my education, and become special education endorsed. Since having Liam and continuing the reading endorsement, this has been put on the back burner and has slipped further into my pool of goals. But this is no longer the case!

Taking a break between games
Obviously it is still a long-term goal, but it has been renewed with a new passion and focus. I know that it will still take me years to get to the point of being endorsed, but it WILL happen. I still have to pass the reading specialist test (hopefully on Saturday), and there is the little human growing inside me which I'm sure will take a lot of my time, plus the two year old that is currently potty training and has his own opinions, not to mention my career and family. But the point is, it's once again on the list. A goal that I will focus on in the coming years. A passion that will be fulfilled!

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