As I approach one year as a volunteer for the Easter Seals of Houston Adult program, I reflect back on what it has meant to me. I was a high school teacher for 33 years and when I realized it was time for the youngsters to take over the education field, I decided to retire from teaching. As I sought to find a “new part time career” to fill my free time, I thought I would pursue some type of volunteer work in the mean time. As I grew up and up until about 10 years ago, my mom was a volunteer. She volunteered for Crossroads of Indianapolis and to be honest as a young man, I never really knew what she did or even asked her about it.
Last summer I asked Jenny Barnes, a friend I have known for a while if she had any volunteer work I could do for Easter Seals. She guided me to the Adult Program and Betsy Keane. What a life changing experience this has been for me. I remember the first day I showed up. Betsy greeted me and said she was glad to meet me and glad to see me since I was the only volunteer that particular day. One of the activities of that day was microwave cooking. After being introduced to the clients and them introducing themselves to me, my first day of volunteering began. What an experience to say the least. I assisted half of the group in making a dessert. The second half of the day a woman named Dena Blue, a singer, came and the group sang songs with her. As I looked around the room during this experience, I didn’t see disabled adults. I saw adults having a great time singing songs with Dena. When I left, I got in my car with tears in my eyes as I drove home. My tears were because I realized then what my mom had done for half her life with Crossroads in Indianapolis and I never asked her about her experience. I knew this was the place for me. Maybe it’s in the genes, mom.
As a year approaches, I am amazed each day of what these adults accomplish. Betsy challenges them every day with her creative ideas. Most all of the adults are very self-sufficient and really want to do things themselves. I am there for support and assistance. Throughout this past year Betsy has helped the adults become more independent. They plan activities outside of the Easter Seals days. They have scheduled outings to the mall, park, Dave and Busters, the movies and to their homes for parties. I have attended some of these events and I am just in awe of how well each of the adults has organized these events.
…And I get to go bowling with these great people twice a month. Donald Lemoine, the ESGH office manager, single-handedly kept the program alive 10 years ago, back when NPO’s were shutting down left and right. ESGH stayed in the game and temporarily had to shut the Adult Program down due to a serious lack of funding. Donald and his sisters are the best and the sparkle in these adult’s eyes bowling 3 to 4 games on Saturdays really makes their day as it does mine, since I was an avid bowler during my high school and college years. It’s so much fun to see them get sooo excited to get a strike and a spare. Best way to spend a Saturday morning.
I think more than anything else, I see these adults as my friends and not as clients that I volunteer for. In the past, when I would see someone in a wheelchair, I saw the wheelchair first and not the person sitting in it. Now I see the person who just happens to be in a wheelchair. I think people who have time to give can benefit volunteering somewhere whether it is Easter Seals or somewhere else. It can be a life affecting experience.
This group that I feel so fortunate to be involved with has made a major impact on my life and my views on life. These new friends of mine may think they need me, but I need them more. And as I do find my “new part time career”, I will not work on the days that I work with Easter Seals. This is too important to me. And mom, I hope I have made you proud.