During my Vocare experience, I was able to spend two weeks at Easter Seals, a day-center for adults with a wide range of disabilities. Their mission is to “to reduce the impact of disability or health challenges and to enhance the quality of life.” It seemed so simple to walk into the center, entertain the adults, and leave. But in reality, that was nothing like what I experienced. As a matter of fact, I experienced something special. Something that challenged my preconceived notions and my ignorant stereotypes.
I had this expectation that I was the caregiver and I was going to be helping them with every task. However, on my first day, I was greeted with tickles, compliments, and happiness. Matt, who never fails to make me laugh, even thought I was Faith Hill as he claimed he was Tim McGraw and then Elvis the next day. Whether it was playing Uno in Spanish with Juan (shout-out to Señ
or Hurtado!) or Jared telling me the exact time of the sunrise and sunset, I came to the realization that everyone in the day-center just wanted some type of connection and affirmation. While many of the adults are very vocal on their wants and needs, about half of the adults are non-verbal, and I felt it was my duty to dig a little deeper into myself and try to get to know them with or without words.
Miss Mary is an older woman who is non-verbal; however, I had the unique connection with her when we were painting together. My hand on the paint brush and her hand on top of mine tracing the lines as I told her to “hang on” was probably the most memorable moment and it left me in awe. She had never seen me before yet she trusted me to help her do an art project, one of her favorite things to do. The few adults that are non-verbal and in wheelchairs are so much more capable and happy than we think.
Chris, a young man who spends most of his time in his wheelchair, yells in order to show his excitement or wants. One day when he was the last person to leave, he grabbed my arm and made me clap. I clapped and clapped and he would get so excited, he'd practically jump out of his wheelchair. He found so much joy in something as simple as clapping, and it made me think about my own life and how I need to slow down and remember to appreciate the little things that bring me joy.
Coming home to a family that loves me and a meal on the table is something I have taken for granted unfortunately. However, after realizing that a lot of people with disabilities don’
t live with family or don’
t really get a choice in a lot of things pushed me to take a look at the world a little differently and see how people who are marginalized – such as how people with disabilities are treated. At Easter Seals, they are treated with respect and dignity; however, I wonder how they are treated outside of Easter Seals as people automatically label them as “disabled”. But little do they know, they have an abundance of abilities.
The main goal of Vocare is to immerse us into the community and see where God is present outside of our normal routines. While I was immersed into the community, I gained so much more from this experience than what I could have possibly done for the adults at the day-center. Vocare gave us the opportunity to learn about the importance of being passionate for other people, learn to appreciate the many blessings in our lives, and to see how God truly is present in every person regardless of whether they are different from us.
I walked in each day hoping to make someone laugh, although I was doing most of the laughing as they are quite the jokesters. The constant love I gave the adults couldn't compare to the love they gave me everyday. Christine saying she missed me every morning made going in even sweeter. Service is much more than serving people, it is the emotional development in yourself as you start to see people who may be different, as humans who have feelings, wants, and needs like anybody else.
God was present in every single person at the center, including myself. The staff’
s nurturing nature towards each adult immediately taught me how to treat the adults like friends rather than inferiors. God was shining through the adult’
s constant happiness and energy, two things I wish I was all the time. God works in mysterious ways whether it is by challenging us or by shining through people who bring the world nothing but joy. I knew of God’
s presence in everyone before Vocare, and at the day-center, God’
s love was evident in every hug, every kiss from Erma, and every smile shared. I finally began to see God in myself as those preconceived notions and ignorant stereotypes faded day by day.