Benefits on Both Sides

Paige - Rexburg, Idaho
Entered on December 11, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in the gifts of volunteer work.

During my senior year I was given the opportunity to work with students my age with mental and physical disabilities in a program called PAL (Peer Assisted Learning). At first, I did not know how I would interact with the students because I felt that I could not relate to them. My fears soon faded as I began to spend time with each student. I helped them read, learn responsibilities, and participate in activities. As each day passed, the students became more and more comfortable with me and I felt their unconditional love all around.

I believe that children with disabilities have many gifts to give. Through my experiences they gave me the gift of understanding, love, and patience. I have to admit that some days were tough, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the days I spent with them. One activity that I was honored to be a part of was the Special Olympics. I had never seen them work so hard for something until that wonderful day. They did events such as a fifty meter dash, a softball throw, and team sports and relays. As I cheered and supported my kids I was overcome with great joy. I was so happy for them and I realized how talented they were, despite their disabilities. Everyone is different, but they showed me how different can be better.

One of my favorite students, Megan, has Microcephaly. Microcephaly is a neurological disorder in which the circumference of the head is significantly smaller due to the failure of brain growth. Megan has such a sweet spirit about her and she is just like a normal teenager. She loves to sing and dance, but most of all, she loves to laugh. I have made it my goal in life to be more like Megan – loving, outgoing, and compassionate.

I believe in children with disabilities. I believe that they have been given greater gifts then the rest of the world. I also believe that if you let them, they will willingly share them with you. Something that I admire about the students is their ability to enjoy the small things in life and not get caught up in such worldly possessions. I learned that laughter is the best medicine and music is one of the greatest things on earth. If someone was down, another student would be right there cheering them up with some little joke or comment. When we were bored, which was very rare, we filled the room with music and sang and danced for hours.

I believe that I was placed with these students for a reason. I was assigned to help them, but in the end, they were the ones who helped me. I feel that I have become a better person because of my experiences with these special individuals and I will be forever grateful for them. I learned so much about life and had the greatest time doing it.