Behind every champion – a team of volunteers
By Serina Cole
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” – Albert Einstein
For most of his young life Matt was excluded from many extra-curricular activities. He’s watched his friends and school mates have the opportunity to play ball, have fun, and live the life of a typical teenager while he sat and watched from the bleachers. Matt has autism and is known to have some very challenging behaviors. He was even turned away by his own school after wanting to join their Special Olympics team. Despite his intellectual disability, Matt has the same range of desires, needs, emotions and dreams as the rest of the population. “I just want to be on the team” — this was Matt’s dream. As a coach and Delegation Coordinator for Special Olympics, I work with a tremendous group of volunteers, and I knew we could help him achieve his dream. We invited him to become a Mosaic Mustang. At our first basketball practice he was so excited it was a disaster. After much patience, practice and encouragement from his team mates, coaches and staff — Matthew excelled at the individual basketball events. Little did I know that Matt enjoyed his time so much he began watching the Winter Olympics at home to learn how to become a true Olympic Champion.
Finally! It was time to compete. Matt carried the torch for our team in front of his friends and family. At every event he gave his all, doing the very best he could. During the medal ceremony, his faced beamed when they placed a gold medal around his neck. Without hesitation, he lifted the medal to his mouth and bit it as hard as he could. Confused by his actions, I later asked him why he did this — “Because, Mrs. Serina, that’s what real Olympic champions do.” In that moment, I realized we had a made a young man’s dream come true.
Throughout March we have been celebrating the possibilities of individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities. In doing so we must also celebrate many unsung heroes that help discover and tap into those possibilities — our volunteers. If it were not for my volunteers with Mosaic, Matt would not know the pride of being a champion.
Volunteers have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of our community. Think of all the ways they make a difference in day to day life. The ability of people to work willingly together for the betterment of their community and themselves is a valuable resource. Some might argue that with all of the economic stress and uncertainty in our country today, how can we realistically expect anyone to be willing to volunteer? This probably stems from the rather outdated perception that only bored, wealthy housewives and retirees engage in volunteerism. But actually, volunteers can and should come from all walks of life from all economic backgrounds, experience and interest. With many families struggling due to lack of time, financial resources or both, can we, as Wacoans really afford to give away our time and talents without compensation? Can we afford not to?
Let’s take a look at some numbers. Nearly 25% of Texas residents volunteer in some form or fashion. This equates to more than 4.8 million volunteers and 586 million hours of service according to data reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service. This is $13.2 billion in services contributed across Texas. Think about the financial impact if we were to replace these service hours with paid staff! These numbers are astounding, but what do they mean to us? Volunteers deliver critical services—from serving as volunteer fire fighters or participating in search and rescue, to delivering meals to homebound seniors or homeless youth. Volunteers tutor, teach, mentor, coach, and support young people with everything from math homework to dealing with personal crises. In my experience with Mosaic, it means an afternoon of arts and crafts, cooking classes, teaching sign language or just simply sharing an hour of your week to be a friend to someone who needs a compassionate ear or kind word.
Volunteering to work with individuals living with I/DD makes a difference to some of the most vulnerable members of your community. There is an overwhelming need for volunteers for this population of individuals, and in Waco there are many opportunities to serve. I encourage you, even implore you, to consider becoming a volunteer for a special needs individual, group or organization. Without our Mosaic volunteers, there would be a void we could not afford to fill.
Finally, here is one way to visualize the impact of volunteers in our community. Imagine if one day, all the volunteers simply did not show up? What would our community, parks, schools, places of worship and most non-profits in Waco look like? What opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive as a community would be lost?
Note: If you are interested in volunteer opportunities working with the I/DD population, please contact Serina Cole, Mosaic of Waco. 254-757-3434 Ext: 209 or [email protected].
This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Serina Cole. Serina lives in Cameron, Texas, but commutes over 120 miles a day to fulfill her passion to serve individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities. She has worked as the Community Relations Manager for Mosaic in Waco, to create opportunities for individuals with I/DD to pursue a meaningful life in a caring community, giving a voice to their needs. Serina is very involved in the I/DD community as a volunteer, educator and advocate. She volunteers as the Delegation Coordinator and coach for Mosaic’s Special Olympics team and serves as the Secretary for the Waco Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. She is a recent graduate of Waco’s Leadership Plenty Institute, Class of 2014-2015. She states she has fallen in love with the Waco Community and how the city embraces the opportunity to serve, love, protect and care for those in need.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.