Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks
We have had the enormous pleasure of hosting students from the Spectrum program at Cretin Derham High School for more than ten years. Each September a new group of students come to spend Thursdays at Lifeworks Eagan. Some of them have previous experience being with people with disabilities, but for many of them this is a first. Each week the students come for one and a half hours. This year there were six in the group.
It is always interesting when the new students start, some are comfortable immediately and others shy and apprehensive about striking up a conversation or joining in an activity. As the months go by you see everyone including us feeling more at ease with one another, welcoming one another as they come through the doors. Then as we near the end of May when the school year begins to wind down, we know it will soon be time to say goodbye and send these young people off to their next life adventure. This is a bittersweet time.
They leave behind memories that we treasure. Some come back either to work with us or volunteer during breaks from school and work, all of them leave a lasting mark. I asked the students to spend a few minutes with me this last week to reflect on their Lifeworks experience.
What was the best part of being with us, I asked.
- “Connecting with others, becoming familiar with everyone, building relationships and making friends.” These were the responses repeated by all of the students.
Did you have any surprises while you were with us, I wondered.
- “I was surprised by the amount of technology used by the clients.” “The drive of human nature to communicate and the ease that the staff have at understanding what people are saying even when they don’t use words to speak.” “I started out feeling that this was a mandatory service time for me and instead Thursday became my favorite day of the week because I could come to Lifeworks.”
Finally I asked if this experience has changed the way you think about disabilities.
- “This was eye opening for me, I learned to never stereotype people.” I was shy at first and felt out of my element but learned that we are all just people.” “I learned to slow down and just enjoy the time here.”
We wish all of you the best as you begin this next chapter in your lives; it has been a pleasure to spend time with Jimmy, Joe, Henry, Emma, Annalisa and Matthew. We truly enjoyed getting to know you and learning about your lives, hobbies and career goals. Thank you for playing board games with us, doing art work and just hanging out. You will always be welcome at Lifeworks, take care.
Our relationship with Cretin Derham follows a cycle and while we are sad to say goodbye we know there will be another group of wonderful students ready to begin in September. Thank you Cretin Derham for teaching the importance of building community.
If you would like to volunteer at Lifeworks please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me 651-365-3720.