Have you ever smiled so much that your face hurt? Experienced soreness in your cheeks from a “perma-grin”? I have and it happened this week. I had been in the car for more than twenty minutes after completing a volunteer experience when I realized that I will still smiling. I had such a great time with a group of special individuals. A group that consisted of a very talented artist, a comedian, a coffee connoisseur, and a puzzle wizard, just to name a few. It was a group that welcomed me in for a day and changed my life for a lifetime. Contrary to what you might be thinking, I didn’t meet this group in a coffee shop or at a networking event. I met this great group of men in a classroom at Cardinal Services of Indiana.
Cardinal Services is a nonprofit organization that supports people with challenges or disabilities in reaching their personal goals. Since 1954, Cardinal Services that been meeting the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, family members, and friends. They are committed to impacting the lives of those with disabilities by providing a wide variety programs in Kosciusko and surrounding counties. They serve adults with disabilities, families with small children, and children with developmental delays. Upon walking through the door and taking the tour, I was amazed to see and learn about all that the organization provides. I had no idea in that moment that the three and a half hours that would follow would impact me in the way that it did.
I spent time in an adult day services classroom with group of men that had a variety of disabilities and challenges. The day services program provides clients with a meaningful day through work, social interaction, and a variety of activities. As I mentioned earlier, the classroom I volunteered in was filled with some great characters. My responsibility was to be a Cardinal Friend. Simply, just spend time offering a hand where I could. At lunch, I helped gather some food and sit with my friends as they ate. During that time, I heard jokes, we sang songs, and I received hugs. In the classroom, we played games, watched movies, and struggled through puzzles. Well, to be honest, I struggled through the puzzles. My friends, not so much. During the afternoon snack break, I learned to make coffee. I learned a lot from my friends during this volunteer experience. I smiled the entire time. The fulfillment was overflowing. I felt very blessed to have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with this group. As my time came to an end, a staff member talked about how we had enjoyed a great day. One of my new friends spoke up by saying in his low voice, ” Yes we did. Today was a good day.” Then he pointed his skinny finger at me, looked me in the eye, and said “I really like this guy.” It truly was a moment that I will never forget. In just a few hours, I made some new friends that positively impacted me more than anyone will ever know.
Earlier in the week, I heard someone using the “R” word in a derogatory manner. I was offended, annoyed, and upset. I didn’t confront that person when it was said and I probably should have. She was using that word out of ignorance just as I did years ago. I said it when I was young, laughing and joking around just as you probably did. We were uninformed, uncomfortable, and oblivious. I am embarrassed as I look back to that time. The “R” word should never be used. As I drove home from this week’s activity, I thought about that use of the word. I wished I could have introduced her to my new friends. Maybe at that time she would have seen what I see, learn what I know. Those with mental and physical challenges and disabilities are people just like those who society labels as “normal”. Invest some time at Cardinal Services, become a Cardinal Friend, and see for yourself.