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.