I became a church Altar Server at age nine and was occasionally paired to serve with a young man with Down’s Syndrome. I was nervous at first because he was “different”. I learned at that young age that what made him different was his honesty, sincerity, lack of hypocrisy and his smile came from the heart. I no longer feared altar serving with him but looked forward to it.
I’ve been privileged to be counselor at a camp where children and adults with mental and physical disabilities have a summer they will never forget, and I won’t either. Each counselor was paired with a Buddy and spent a week “camping” where dreams become realities and everybody feels unstoppable.
Our Buddies proved to themselves that they could leave their parents for a week and be happy and successful. We did what anyone would do at summer camp: crafts, swimming, dancing, etc. They danced with the best moves I have ever seen!
When I joined I first thought, “Will people think I’m weird dancing like this?” I quickly realized, “Who cares! This isn’t about ME but about the Buddies.” Their smiles made me realize I made dreams come true, made people truly happy, and felt joyful watching people having the time of their lives. It was a gift to be with people who exuded joy and love without reservation.
I also volunteered at a bike camp for individuals with Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy. Most campers were older teenagers who rode tricycles or bikes with training wheels. After a repetitive and tiring week holding on to camper’s bikes and running countless laps around a gym floor I teared up watching my campers riding two-wheeled bicycles on the final day. Sharing in their great accomplishment was a privilege.
Initially, I found, you don’t realize you are giving a precious gift to people, but in helping someone, you give your LOVE. You receive it in return many times over and make a difference in the world. After spending hundreds of happy hours at these events, it is obvious these marvelous individuals have more ABILITIES than disabilities. If you focus on your abilities, you can overcome any disability life presents you.
We are all created in “God’s image and likeness”, but we don’t know what that is… maybe our Buddies do. They are filled with goodness and have the ability to act without fear of judgment, be openly truthful, and when a friend is needed, they’re always there with a hug. I am so blessed to have experienced working with these amazing individuals, growing in my life and faith, and moving from fear… to LOVE.