By Caylin Dean, Contributing Writer
As my group and I creep through the door frame, struggling to get through with our full bags of craft supplies- construction paper, markers, scissors, and glue galore- we are greeted with the smiling faces of the residents who have waited so patiently for our arrival.
I volunteer at a site that provides care to individuals with intellectual disabilities. Due to limitations at the site, I am prohibited from using any identifying information. Some of the people that we work with have Down’s syndrome, autism, or other forms of impairment. However, they are so much more than their disabilities; they are humans like you or me who long to have love and interaction, participate in meaningful activities, and make friends, which is why it has become such a passion of mine to be involved in a program that does just that.
Biweekly, I spend hours searching for the perfect craft to present to the residents. It can’t be too time consuming but it should not be too juvenile; it should related to holidays and seasons, but it can’t be a repeat. It has to be just right. I prepare a model of the craft to ensure that the residents know what it looks like, and we go from there.
In the hopes of bringing on spring weather, the first craft was a tissue paper flower, as showcased below. Vibrant neons of pink, orange, and blue were a shock to the eyes and certainly captured the excitement of the residents. The other volunteers and I assist the residents in selecting the perfect colors to match their personality, their room, or whoever they are constructing the craft for, as they will often give it to their helper as a token of appreciation. We then aid them in the cutting and creation of the craft, if need be, or just remain an encouraging voice and smiling face for when they share their design.
Following the blindingly bright tissues paper flower, we transition to our second and final craft of the night: a God’s eye. After adhering the two popsicle sticks in a perpendicular intersection, we then began to assist the residents in intricately looping the yarn around each pale birch protrusion. Loop and coil, loop and coil, loop and coil, we must have executed the action a thousand times. Born from the mundane popsicle stick and yarn is a beautiful, intricately woven motif completed by an enthusiastic resident.
Visiting the site brings the residents, as well as the volunteers, so much enjoyment. So often, people forget that despite their ailments, the disabled are people too. It is so important to ask them about their day, their hobbies, and their happiness. One resident has a boyfriend that she gushes over as if she is a teenager; her eyes light up, her cheeks flush with a rosy tone, and her voice shrills in excitement. Another resident’s father recently passed away. She speaks of the good times they had and their treacherous 23-hour drive to Arizona when she was a child, sweat dripping down the leather seats of the station wagon in triple degree heat. The nonverbal patient cannot hide her enthusiasm as a volunteer completes her craft. She juts her thumb high into the air as her grin spreads ear to ear.
Rachael Fulton, a senior who volunteers at the site from McKendree first found her passion of working with individuals with disabilities when she was in high school. She even plans to go to medical school to ensure that they receive the best treatment possible. When I questioned her on her favorite part about visiting the site, she simply replied, “everything.”
“I like helping them realize that they have the strength to do things that other people don’t realize that they can,” Rachael told me.
“It gives them happiness and makes them feel good about themselves when we give them the chance to do things for themselves. A lot of times, people do things for them, not realizing that they are capable of making decisions for themselves.”
Rachael then stressed the point that there is often a lack of knowledge surrounding individuals with disabilities, and the best way to combat that is to go to a site and interact them.
“It creates an understanding that they are people, just as we are, and they have the same wants, dreams, and opinions that we do. Although some are unable to communicate that, it is important that we recognize them.”