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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.

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The 6 foot 5 inch “Great Dane” was born March 20, 1991 and lives in Laguna Beach, CA with his parents, Debi and Tom.  He is a Senior at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA where he serves as the Campus Ministry Commissioner on the All School Board (ASB) and hopes to attend one of the west coast Jesuit universities next year: Gonzaga, Seattle, Santa Clara, San Diego or Loyola Marymount. Dane rows for the Newport Aquatic Center crew team and enjoys the beach, wakeboarding and hanging out with his three older sisters, Lindsay, Whitney and Chelsea. 

The following biography was written by Meghan Schinderle who, along with Katie Webb, is Co-Director of ReCreation, Weekend Getaway and ACE Camp.

Please allow me to introduce you to a young volunteer of ours named Dane. He is 17 years old and has already decided to dedicate his time, all of his time, to helping others. He is a loving and giving member of the ReCreation Camp Volunteer team that works to provide camps and services for children and adults with disabilities, all at no cost to the campers and their caregivers.

He volunteers for our four camps a year, giving over 200 hours to the sole happiness of his campers and even works to spread the word to bring more campers to our facilities. He is the first to volunteer for any job, no matter how laborious or unglamorous. He runs the campus ministry program at his high school encouraging other youth to give of themselves. He participates each year with the Special Olympics and the local chapter of the Down Syndrome Association. He is an honor student on ASB, rows for a local Crew team and is working towards over 500 hours of service by the time he graduates. Oh, and he can cook and bake better than most stars on the Food Network! 

I could go on for days about this humble, fun-loving, ordinary teenager who has decided to be a part of so many extraordinary things. He is ReCreating the definition of amazing and spreading that spirit to all he encounters, especially our friends with special needs.

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