We often talk about what we can do for people with disabilities, but what about what they can do for us and those in their community? Volunteering isn’t limited by a person’s disability, and a school district that serves Bergen County in New Jersey has found a way to include its special education students in volunteer efforts.
“We can’t look at disabilities. We have to look at abilities.” South Bergen Jointure Commission superintendent, Dr. Michael Kuchar talks about the project some of his students have taken on. South Bergen Jointure Commission in New Jersey provides special education services for about 400 students in its area. When school officials realized their students could help during this pandemic crisis by making face masks on 3D printers, they jumped on the opportunity. They delivered the printers to a few families initially, followed by several more purchased by donations.
One special education student, 13-year-old Amelia McGowan, proudly describes how she is the only one in the house who knows how to work the machine. Being able to make something and help others gives Amelia a sense of pride, and her mother loves being able to see her have a newfound independence.
I have interviewed over 100 families who have children with disabilities. It has been such an honor to meet each of them, listen to their stories, and learn from them. I truly enjoy hearing each family’s unique perspective on their situation. Thinking about these interviews, I have noticed that although each family has its own story, they also have quite a lot of similarities. One common statement I have heard while interviewing parents is the biggest fear they have, the fear of the unknown. We are currently in a time where there are a lot of unknowns, which can lead to a lot of fear. To combat that feeling, I like to focus on all the positive that people are doing around the world. This is why I was drawn to this Disability Scoop article, and the comment made by the superintendent. His is a wonderful perspective to have; even though our children are differently abled, they still have the ability to make a difference.
A few years ago, I personally witnessed two great examples of giving back by groups of people with intellectual disabilities support by my organization, RISE. One group volunteered each week at the local soup kitchen. They served food to the homeless and helped clean up afterward. Another group adopted a campground in the nearby national forest cleaning up the litter that accumulated there weekly. This group was awarded the Forest Service award for volunteerism. I was there when the head of the Forest Service present the award. The fun part for me was knowing he had no idea the volunteers had intellectual and developmental disabilities.
People with disabilities should have the opportunity of giving back. Service is the great equalizer and a benefit for all.
Gerald Nebeker, Ph.D. Orange Socks President