I have been in charge of volunteer recruitment at Lifeworks since 2004 and am always pleased when staff, family members or other volunteers help me in my efforts but I never thought about being assisted in my challenge by dogs. Yes, dogs, Molson and Nugget to be exact!
Our music therapist, Jennie Delisi, originally from Canada, lives in the Hamline neighborhood of St. Paul and daily she walks her dog, Molson. In the past year Molson and Jennie developed a regular route that took them past Hamline University employee and homeowner, John Brown. One day he struck up a conversation with Jennie and asked about her dog’s name. He recognized Molson as a Canadian name, explained that he and his family were also Canadian transplants and that he too had a dog, Nugget.
One conversation led to another creating a friendship between both the dogs and their owners. At some point another common interest was also identified. John’s wife, Lynn works as a special education pupil support at Madison Elementary in Blaine. So when Jennie wanted to launch a pilot project that would allow people with disabilities the use of technology to start a band Lynn came to mind as a potential volunteer.
Jennie asked Lynn if she would volunteer to support Eagan clients who use assistive technology to try playing musical instruments using DynaVox technology. Lynn’s response was immediate,
“Yes, and can I bring my daughter, Taiya?”
And so began the adventure of Lynn, Taiya and the Lifeworks AT Real Time Band. Every Friday Lynn and Tai came to our Eagan center to sit next to the novice musicians, cheer them on and encourage their efforts. The project culminated in October when the band performed at the Closing The Gap conference (See the performance on the Lifeworks Facebook page). Their performance brought many to tears and they received a standing ovation from the audience.
Initially Lynn and Taiya needed to be ready to help with all sorts of things, setting up tables, instruments and devices, holding devices, sometimes holding devices in place, and helping cue the musicians who were just learning their parts. Both Lynn and Taiya brought their own unique skills and interests to the group. Taiya plays the clarinet in her high school marching band and was able to share that experience with these novice band members. This was important because none of the Real Time band members had ever played an instrument or performed. Lynn brought her classroom experience working with other communication device users. She took time each week to talk to every band member. Communication device users need time to prepare what they want to say, and patient Lynn always waited because she truly wanted to know what they wanted to tell her.
I asked Jennie, dog walker/music therapist, what it meant to her to having Lynn and Taiya as volunteers and she said,
“We could never have gotten this pilot project off the ground without Lynn and Taiya. Just getting seven individuals who use manual wheelchairs to band practice can take a long time. Who wants to spend all of their time waiting for something to happen? Lynn and Taiya truly made this experience happen in real time.”
I met with Lynn and Taiya to reflect back on their experience, what had they learned, what surprised them, how do they feel now.
Both Lynn and seventeen year old Taiya said the best part of volunteering with the band members was getting to know people as individuals, learning about their sense of humor and seeing first hand the pleasure our band members get from having access to technology.
Taiya wrote a paper this fall about her Lifeworks volunteer experience that gained her entry into the National Honor Society. She said that volunteering here taught her to never judge others.
“That’s something you hear people say but now I know it’s true.”
Tai also told me that she wants to pursue religious studies or history in college but definitely wants to do something that impacts the future for others.
I asked if they have a favorite memory from their summer at Lifeworks and they both talked about their last volunteer day when Lynn, Tai and the band members brought in family pictures to share with each other. Tai put it all into perspective when she said,
“Sometimes on Fridays I knew there were other things that I could be doing but after I got to Lifeworks and saw the improvement in the band members from one week to the next, I knew that this was so worth my time.”
Back to Nugget and Molson, thank you for sniffing out Lynn and Taiya for me. A huge thank you to Lynn and Taiya for giving their time but also for making the Lifeworks Real Time Band a reality. They are just two of the amazing volunteers who make Lifeworks the exceptional place that we know it to be.
How about you? If you would like to volunteer your time with some appreciative people, just call Kath Pengelly. 651-365-3720.
Find out more at http://www.lifeworks.org.