For the past 2 months, I have been volunteering with some friends at the Abilene Disability Resources Incorporated (DRI). DRI is a non-profit organization that is a planned community designed to enhance the lives of their residents, develop their life skills, and provide the required medical care and a variety of therapies. The types of the people that are trained at DRI are those with Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, head injury, and/or mild mental retardation. They are mostly older individuals, not children. We would go every Friday and help train them for the Special Olympics. We worked with all of them (a group of about 15-20 people) on the different events they were going to be participating in from walking, running relays, throwing (softballs/tennis balls), etc. I was a little hesitant working with this group at first just because I have never worked with special needs adults, only children. Walking into the building my first day, my heart was pounding. I was so nervous, however I was quickly greeted through a line of hugs and hello’s. It warmed my heart to see these people with smiles on their faces despite the struggles they go through every day and being so excited to see me even though they have never met me. It only got better every time I went back. I got to know some of them really well and I loved getting to know each and every one of them. No matter how bad my day had been, going there and being with them made me forget all about it. I remember walking in there one Friday on the verge of tears because I had just received really bad news, but one guy I met there named Sarge (his real name is Kent), ran over to me and gave me a big hug and put his arm around me and right then I knew I was going to be okay.
It made me rethink a lot of things in my life after working with them. I could go in their mad at the littlest of things and then I see them living with something far worse than I could ever imagine, and they have nothing but a smile on their face, ear to ear, the entire day. It was eye opening to see the joy they carried with them day in and day out. This past Saturday I volunteered at the Special Olympics and helped DRI with every event they were in. Me and my friend Kate arrived at 8:30 and did not leave till 3:00. We helped them stretch, get lined up at the right starting lines, cheered them on as they ran, and then greeted them at the finish line when they were done. I knew walking in that I was about to be apart of something amazing, but I didn’t know when it would hit me.We walked out with them for the opening ceremonies and to see the joy of everyone cheering on each other from all the other groups was incredible. They started playing the National Anthem and normally at sporting events everyone just casually just sings along. Well here all of the athletes were singing it at the top of their lungs and it seriously warmed my heart. They had so much pride in what they were doing and they were so happy to be there. The events started shortly after and we had athletes in every event. I was a greeter at the finish line of the walking and running events. I stood down there waiting for them like a proud parent. I was overwhelmed with joy as each one of my athletes crossed the finish line with the BIGGEST smile on their face. The majority of them got first, however even the athletes that got second or third were still so happy. It was the cutest thing watching all of them get so excited about competing and finishing the race. Sarge (pictured in the second picture) is 71 years old and he was a runner, not a walker, a RUNNER. He competed in the 50 and older age group and was put up against one other person. He started the race and left the other guy in the dust. I was at the finish line screaming my head off for him because I was so excited! The funniest part was about half way through, Sarge turned around to see how far his opponent was away from him and when he realized that he was far behind Sarge got the biggest smile ever on his face and started running even faster!! Never in my life did I ever think I would see a 71 year old man run in a race. The men and women switched events (track went to field events and vise versa) and then a few hours later the meet was over.
Me and Kate made the long walk back to our dorm and the whole time we were walking back I could not stop thinking about how great of an experience that that was. I have always wanted to work with Special Olympics and to finally get the chance to was incredible. I definitely will continue to serve with the mentally disabled and definitely keep volunteering at the Special Olympics. I STRONGLY recommend that everyone gives Special Olympics at least one chance. Put your ego aside and your life on hold for a few hours and go out and help these people. They are some of the best people you will ever meet and can change your life more than you think. I can see myself working with these people for the rest of my life.
GO OUT AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE.