Everyone has seen them – the young man with the persistent flow of drool from his mouth or the little girl with the severe speech impediment. We’ve all stared and whispered to our friends, not even giving a passing thought to how far out our actions ripple. However, things changed when I started volunteering at the Friendship Circle. After spending time with special needs children for several months, I came to a shocking revelation: they are people, too. While they may not be able to articulate their feelings as well as others, they do have them. Just like the rest of us.
It was amazing to see the transformation that took place, both in myself, and in those I volunteered with since I began in early 2010. I really had no clue what to expect when I signed onboard to help out at the Friendship Circle. What I found, though, was an environment that promoted the development and mental wellness of those I volunteered with. I had a sinking feeling when I began my volunteer work that it was going to be terribly awkward trying to find my place, when, on the surface, it seemed that most relationships had long since been established. What I found was quite to the contrary.
On my first day of volunteering, I was welcomed by the staff, volunteers, and gifted individuals alike. I walked in and instantaneously felt like part of the family. The goal of the Friendship Circle is to have the volunteers establish a relationship with the kids. Getting paired to work with the same girl served as a gateway to truly achieve the goals of the Friendship Circle, as well as make a lasting impact on a young lady’s life.
Within the past week, I heard a phrase used by one of the workers which really hit home for me. The young lady I am volunteering with and I were playing one of the few “make-believe” games that we play, and she told me she was better than I was at the game. It was how one of the other volunteers responded that really sunk deep. She said, “Different, not better.”
As far as I’m concerned, that sums up the entire ideology of the volunteering that I do. Some kids may be faster and others may be smarter, but that does not make them “better”. There are several efficient pathways to any goal in life, and choosing one over another does not make you superior, but simply different.
In retrospect, I really am disappointed that I would ever have felt the way I did about special needs kids even a year ago. I was apathetic, at best. Making the decision to volunteer with the Friendship Circle really was one of the best choices I’ve made this year to date. Not only have I been able to fix my distorted view on a group of men, women, and children without much of a voice in today’s society, but I have been able to open myself up to a young lady and make, what I believe to be, a deep, meaningful impact on her life.