As a part of our school’s re-accreditation efforts last year, we took a look at what we call our Expected Student Outcomes. That is, after a student’s time in our school, what are some of the things we want them to walk away with? One of the things we discussed was that they could recognize the humanity of others through service.
Then the question came- what kind of service? Our principal led us through a discussion on the importance of sustainable service – service that meets the actual needs of an organization, not the perceived needs that we project on them. If we want to truly create a culture that says, “go, serve others as they need it,” we have to make some commitments and stick to them. But where?
Several local non-profits were tossed around. But one that really stood out was the Ability Tree (AT). They seek to provide REST (Recreation, Education, Support, Training) for families with children that have special needs.
To be honest – I was scared of this prospect. Move chairs – awesome. Rake lawns – go for it. Build a house – on it. But…this? I wasn’t even sure how we would serve there, but we decided to run with it.
As I typed that first email to AT, I secretly longed for this to be a no-go. That for some reason, some type of red tape would keep us from partnering with them. You see – I had always viewed working with children with special needs as a kind of superpower- much like working with teenagers or teaching math. But regardless of how I felt, I sent that email and asked, “Is there a way that we could best serve you all and partner together?”
The response was excited and immediate. This was not quite what I had expected. Their needs would require a five hour time commitment on a Friday night for our students and at least two teachers. All I could picture was the revolt that would come as I presented to everyone that this was the best course of action.
But, our principal loved it. By and large, it was warmly received. And so – we moved forward – all the while, I was trying to be excited about this, but squirming in my mind.
There were three key events that occurred over the next month or so that challenged my heart.
My super-power illusion was breaking. Perhaps I could do this after all. After a month or so of background checks, training, a preliminary visits, I found myself driving a 15-passenger van with nine students prepared to sacrifice their Friday night for a group of children that we had never met.
I. Was. Nervous.
What will happen? What will go wrong? What if one of our students gets triggered? What if there is a meltdown? What happens if we mess it all up?
And then I watched, amazed by our students. They dove in with gusto. Their immediate response to each of the children was love, joy, and compassion. I watched joyfully as they laughed, hugged, raced, swang, and played with the children with no reservations! It was such a blessing to watch walls be broken down as our students stepped
out of their own comfort zone and blessed the lives of others.
Here’s what some of our students had to say about their experiences at Ability Tree:
Jaci: When I signed up to go to Ability Tree, I was really nervous. I worried if I was going to be a good fit for my kid. When I met my kid my nerves went away, she was the sweetest little girl. I soon got to help her with her tumbling and acrobatics. Later we sat and pointed out the colors of all of the cars that passed by. We used funny voices to call out each color, which may sound boring to most, but we found it fun. I’m glad that I was able to bond with her and teach her new colors. If I have the opportunity to go back, you bet my name will be on the list!
Rei*: Going to Ability Tree was a new and exciting experience for me. I was really nervous. In the end, I was able to make a cool friendships with some of the children! I even ended up going back a second time! I found that it is good to try new things. In doing so, I found that helping out with children is something that I love to do and I think that it is something that I am skilled in.
Eric: I enjoyed having a one on one friendship with the kids. You get to know them and focus on someone else other than yourself. I played with this little girl and I ended up being a prince. I got thrown in jail in our make-believe story, but we had fun and we talked a lot. She crowned herself the princess and fed me pretend bug ice cream. I enjoyed getting to know her and learn her interests. The smiles on the kids faces made it totally worth it because it made them really happy. It’s something simple that was a big deal to them. The first time I really didn’t want to go and tried to get out of it, but I actually enjoyed it and had a great time! The kids were awesome!