With a little help from my friends.

Jamie - Richmond, Virginia
Entered on May 8, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe that all people have value and purpose. I work for an organization that provides

jobs for the physically and mentally challenged. Not everyone believes as I do, and many feel

the physically and mentally challenged are not capable of contributing to society. But my experiences with these wonderful people have shown me that they can contribute.

I work as a program aide for a horticulture class. My first week with the group was emotionally exhausting. I had trouble understanding some of them because of speech impediments and I wasn’t sure what to do when they couldn’t do what I considered simple. My patience was seriously tested. I wrestled with whether I could do the job all weekend and when Monday arrived I didn’t have the answer, so I took the day off. Monday night as I helped my young daughter with her homework, I realized that I would be able to do the job. Teaching and helping them would be different than teaching and helping my daughter, but my job as a mother had prepared me for working with my group. I knew I had to go back and try again.

Tuesday morning I went to the classroom and when I opened the door they yelled, “She’s back!” They surrounded me, patting me on the back and hugging me. I knew I was where I was meant to be.

There have been many incidents since then that have shown me how incredible these people are: The time I tripped over a flat-bed cart, Ariel* and Kenneth were there instantly to help me and make sure I was ok. The time Anna, who is very shy, asked me to sit with her at lunch, I knew I had finally earned her trust. The time Marcus, who only speaks to a few, waited for me at break time so he could talk to me about changing his job, I knew that he knew I would listen to, not just hear, what he had to say. These experiences, and many more, have shown me how much they have to give. Don’t we all want compassion? Doesn’t everyone want to be trusted and respected? All communities would be better if there were more people like this.

I have watched them struggle to master something new and the joy that comes when they succeed. I have watched them interact with people in the community when they have a plant sale. They are kind, compassionate, fun-loving, hard working, honest, and courageous.

I have self-esteem issues and my family has helped me overcome most of them but I still didn’t feel that I had a purpose. By helping my friends learn how they can be useful in the community, I have learned what my purpose is. I am now in college, studying to be a social worker so that I can be more useful for people like my friends.

*Names have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.