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I work with a social/educational/recreational group for teens with disabilities.  When first getting this group together at the beginning of the school year, I asked them what they wanted to do as part of our program.  Every single one of them said they wanted to “help other people”.  Here are students with a variety of disabilities and medical needs, and they wanted to help others! They were mature enough to look beyond their own problems to the problems of others.

Various suggestions were tossed about; opening a soup kitchen, visiting with the elderly in nursing homes, working at the local pet shelter, and so forth.  I suggested the easiest thing to do would be something we could do as a group within our program.  They chose making sandwiches for the homeless.

Every other Saturday we meet.  Yesterday we had some social skills activities, some recreation, (does anyone remember the game Simon?), and then they all baked cookies and made sandwiches.  As they were working, they chatted happily, teen music playing in the background.  When one song came on, they all broke out into what I call “dancing like you are riding a horse”.  (I am sure all teens will know what I am talking about, even if parents don’t.)  As soon as the song stopped, they all went back to their sandwich making. It was hilarious!

They worked as a team and made 165 sandwiches and twelve dozen cookies. As they worked, they talked about who might get to eat them, what kind of bad luck may have fallen upon that person and so forth.  They talked with much empathy, and not once during their conversation did they mention their own problems.  They were caring about the problems of others.

After the sandwiches were made, I drove up to Traveler’s Aid, a local spot where the homeless hang out.  The kids got out of the car to bring the sandwiches and cookies in.  They helped each other.  One girl in a wheelchair held a box of sandwiches on her lap while a girl who is blind held onto the wheelchair as her sighted guide.  (Instead of a using a guide dog, she was using a guide wheelchair!)  I stood back as they went into the building and delivered the goods. They were so proud.  The large group of people milling about parted like the Red Sea, and left them easy access to the front desk where they would be dropping the food off.  They walked and wheeled to the front desk which, fortunately, was wheelchair accessible.  The crowd murmured appreciatively, politely, thankfully.  The kids faces beamed as they turned around and came back to the van.  They were no longer disabled, but capable of helping others.  Suddenly, their problems were not as bad as the people who thanked them; people without shelter and food.

 

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

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Comments on: "Beyond One’s Own Problems" (40)

  1. What a beautiful example of everyone being able to contribute in some one. In a lot of us, myself included, our biggest obstacle is our view of ourselves. Oh and by the way, I am 62 and know the horsey dance, Gagnam Style! :)

  2. This is amazing!! More teens need to do great things just because! The school board in charge of my high school has a mandatory 40 hours of community service that you NEED to do in order to graduate. Volunteering shouldn’t be about because you “have too”. It should be like what your teens wanted, to help people! This is very inspiring! Maybe I should ask my older kids (gr. 5 and 6) at work if they could do something in their community to help others.

  3. that was absolutely beautiful,wonderful way for them to write their new year!

  4. I’m normally one of your *lurkers*, but I just had to comment today. I am so moved by the idea of the kids helping others like this. It’s often hard for disabled children to feel that they have something to offer the community and you’ve helped them see that they do and given them a sense of pride and self-worth that will serve them well as adults. What a wonderful project for them! Bravo to you all!

    • I usually have the groups do something for others. For summer camp last year they decorated large plastic bags, and, with $5 in each of their hands, they went into the dollar store to buy items for the soldiers in Iraq. They decorated the bags and wrote thank you letters. I strongly believe that by having them do so, they not only realize that the world is bigger than themselves, and they are capable of doing something to make it better. My own children were raised that way, and it helps them from being too selfish.

  5. “teens with disabilities”. What disabilities? Obviously more able then given credit. Bravo!!

  6. We all have disabilities, which is just another word for limitations or restrictions. Some are visibily obvious but most of us have hidden disabilities. We are limited in our empathy and restricted in how we can help others. It’s great that these teens are able to get beyond their disabilities and can use their special talents to help other people!

  7. That was so beautiful, and beautifully written. You have such a talent for making me tear up!

    I’m chronically ill, but when I am able to do a random act of kindness, I know I always feel healthier and happier because of it. Giving truly is a gift to the giver!

  8. This is so hope building. I have a fifteen year old granddaughter in a social group for those with disabilities. Hope to pass this on to them. Thanks once again for all you give to all of us.

  9. Reblogged this on Laughter: Carbonated Grace and commented:
    @Heather, please read this. It’s the blog site I’ve been telling you about. This post has possibilities for Hadley’s group.

  10. What an inspiring post! Thank you. Reading this make my day :)

  11. strawberryquicksand said:

    Why is it that reading your posts often leave me with tears in my eyes? xo

  12. My question to ALL her readers, how do we get her recognized so she has a regular column in a national newspaper? Anyone know anybody with some clout? This blog should be read by everyone.

    By the way, this just reinforces my motto. “Been there. Done that. NOW how can I help?”

    • Thank you for the compliment. I have a much greater interest in doing public speaking, in case anyone is interested. I am pretty laid back, laugh at myself, and find joy in life.
      I DO have my book: The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane, available on I-Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and such.
      But thanks for bringing me appreciation!

  13. I love this idea. I can picture the kids’ faces as they dropped off their goods, as well as the reaction of the recipiants. What an encouragement to all involved!

  14. Gardengirl said:

    Because you are such a brave and inspirational woman and willing to take the time to share your great stories with the rest of us, I nominated you for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award. All of the info for acceptance is included in my post http://juliencb.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/blog-of-the-year-2012-award/. Please, keep up the good work and I agree that your voice should be heard by many more people, whether it’s through writing or public speaking.

  15. I love “beyond ones own problems”! I appreciate the giving compassionate hearts of these teens. How keenly acquainted they are with difficulties in life, that in turn, is the motivation to serve others. Beautiful :)

  16. This story made me cry. I was crying tears of joy.

  17. Superb, really inspiring. I’d like to get my own two boys (not teens yet), and myself to do some activities for the sake of others.

  18. Lovely. To say you are an inspiration would be a hopeless understatement. May God bless you all in 2013, and thanks for your powerful witness. : )

  19. aww you’re story warmed my heart.

    thanks so much for sharing. I can just imagine the person in the wheel chair and the girl who is blind holding on to the chair.

    Have done that a time or 2 myself.

    regards Maria and crew from australia email: bubbygirl1972@gmail.com check out http://www.95-the-mix.com where we play lots of great music

  20. It felt so good reading this. These kids have a bigger heart than people with “no disabilities.” they deserve our praise and a huge round of applause! It’s them we should be looking up to. i once volunteered to take a group of children with asperger’s and down’s syndrome to the park and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
    so, thankyou for sharing this post :)

  21. I have been blessed to have co-led a dozen or so missions that were primarily youth workers. Although these children did not have disabilities, they still learned to appreciate the message taught, atleast for that moment. It is amazing to see them forget what is their “issue” at the moment and worry about others. No matter who you are or how old you are, helping others is helping yourself too.
    Thank you for posting.

  22. Reblogged this on Sow Mercy and commented:
    Another example of sowing kindness into the lives of others.

  23. Lovely. Makes me feel better after a difficult day.

  24. Excellent post, thanks for sharing this story. I absolutely love this: “They were no longer disabled, but capable of helping others.” Wonderful.

  25. Beautiful post! As the parents of two kinds with ASD, it’s a reminder to focus on their abilities and not their disabilities

  26. Such a heart warming story. :)

  27. It’s amazing what giving can do for the spirit. Thank you for sharing this!

  28. I embrace the giving, loving spirit of your group.

  29. All I can say is wow. What a lesson there is to be learned here. I sometimes think that we, of strong body and mind are the ones that are disabled. We could all stand to walk (or roll) a mile in their shoes. A great story. Thanks for sharing.

  30. I’ve only read your posts to thus far, but, aside from all the ‘downsides’ and perceived (and actual) ‘negatives’ of trying to accommodate a person who may need some ‘extra’ help, you seem to be able to constantly surround yourself with these amazing people! Now, I know this is only a minor excerpt from their entire lives but, how you’re able to write, I’m jealous of all this time you get to spend with them! (Now, granted, I don’t know if ‘I’ could be as fortunate as you, to be able to ‘be’ with these people long enough to truly experience all the blessings they have to offer, as I can have a pretty short temper; But I’m quite fine, being able to peacefully observe your experiences with them, and their actions you’ve shared with us, through your stories, shared here.
    Thank you for sharing your life with all us ‘random strangers’! And let all those teenagers how appreciated and adored they are, from this little excerpt, and simply choosing to get out of bed in the morning, each day!
    (And, this is quite ‘off’, as I don’t usually [my blog doesn't count] use ‘so’ many exclamation marks – and after each and every sentence, no less. Except for these in the bracket, which I’ve intentionally ended with periods. Period.)
    All the best! – And bananas! :D

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