I feel a little weird about writing about any volunteer stuff I do here because it feels like I’m looking for a pat on the back or saying hey look at what a great person I am for doing this. Thus the reason that I’ve never done it before. I especially say this because I don’t feel like I do that much or enough. I’m quite honestly someone who would rather give of my money than give of my time. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I don’t like dealing with unfamiliar situations or people I don’t know, and volunteer work almost always involves both of these things at least initially and usually the people part every single time. My introverted tendencies mean I am horrible at small talk or generally engaging in conversations with people I don’t know, which is why I’m a little terrified of meeting new people. This anxiety increases even more with people who I have hard time communicating with for any additional reason such as a heavy accent I have a hard time understanding or a disability that may limit communication in some way.
In the past year or so though I feel like God has been calling on me to grow a little in this area. Last summer my position at work took on some new responsibilities that now involve me managing a lab with a bunch of adaptive technology for people with disabilities. As part of that last November I went to a conference on disability support in higher education institutions where a lot of people in attendance had disabilities of some kind. It was a really good learning experience for me. All around the same time last fall my church was doing a sermon series focused on all the ministry areas it is involved in. As I have mentioned before my church has two campuses now. I attend the smaller city one now, but for a long time attended what we affectionately refer to as the mother ship or big Grace. Big Grace has been very involved over the past 5 or 6 years in making the church a welcoming place for people with disabilities. One of the sermons during that series was about the disability ministry at big Grace and asking people to consider volunteering at something they call REST day. It was just another sign to me that God was saying hey this is an area I want you to be involved with so I went.
So what exactly is REST Day? Four times per school year (generally September, December, February, and April) families who have children (under the age of 21) with disabilities can drop their kids off at the church for a day of fun so that they can have the afternoon off to do whatever without having to worry about their kids. Both children with disabilities and their siblings are welcome so as to allow the parents complete freedom. It is completely free and open to the community not just people who attend the church. Other than the fact that it is held in a church and the families are given a packet with information about the church the event is completely secular so that non-religious or families of other religions are comfortable participating. It is just a way for the people of my church to serve the community and be the hands and feet of Jesus for a day to these families.
Kids are assigned groups based on age and disability. Kids who are lower functioning and need additional help are assigned an adult to work with them one-on-one for the day. Though I think the ratio for other kids is still about 1 and half adults per one child so there is a lot of adult supervision. The kids then rotate in their groups through various activity rooms (crafts, gym, music, games, face painting/nail polish, and movie/snack). In addition to the adults that are assigned to a group of kids there are also people who stay in each room to help out with whatever activity as the kids rotate through. Families are also sent home with a dinner prepared for them to eat. People from the church donate food and then there are also volunteers who work in the kitchen the day of to put all the meals together and to cook any additional food that is needed.
In the past I have worked as a room volunteer and in the kitchen. This past Saturday was the first time I have worked in a group of kids. I was nervous going in because I wasn’t sure how being responsible for an entire group of kids all day was going to be as opposed to just dealing with the kids for a short rotation while they were in my activity room while other people were mostly responsible for them. It turns out I liked being with the kids in a group a lot. My group of kids was composed mostly of younger kids (probably between the ages of 3 and 8 with a couple of older outliers) most of whom had some sort of hearing disability. Most of them had cochlear implants so had some hearing, but the majority also communicated via ASL. When I was in college one of the “blowoff” classes a lot of people took their senior year when they had fulfilled all their requirements but needed more credits was sign language. I took it with several of my friends. For some reason aside from the alphabet the one sign I remember is the sign for socks. Do not ask me why, and let me tell you how not useful knowing that particular sign is. I even could have used the word shoes to tell the kids to put their shoes back on when we were leaving the gym activity, but did I remember how to say that? Nope only socks. It worked out fine though. There were some adults in my group that are fluent in ASL so they helped out and were able to teach the rest of us a few useful signs. And some of them I could just pick up from context or we just used a lot of gestural communication. One little boy who kind of adopted me for the day at one point signed to me that he wanted me to sit down so that he could sit in my lap. It was very sweet and the since I had by that point learned the sign for sit (though I have already forgotten it) I knew what the sign for him sitting on my lap meant because the gesture made so much sense along with the sit sign.
It was a really fun day, and though I know I’m not a natural at this stuff (some of the people I was volunteering with really were) it’s something I want to continue to grow at doing. They don’t do it over the summer, but I look forward to participating again in the fall when they hold the next REST day.