This article covers the powerful positive effects of inclusion with reverse volunteering. Volunteers with disabilities partnered up with university students to make a difference.
Martin Luther King Day of Service.
For the past three years, a small group of three young adults labeled with disabilities volunteered, with university students, for the Martin Luther King Day of Service. Instead of stay home with a day off from work or school, people instead devoted time to make a difference in their community.
The event started at a local university which included both students and community. Inclusion for people with disabilities is an emerging idea in the small Midwestern town.
Inclusion at its finest.
The event started off by checking in at the front desk with the staff.
I remember the first time we tried this out, I’ve had a young staff member make a loud announcement that the agency’s people were here. Talk about ruining the dignity of the people you support and publicly disclosing private information unintentionally.
This time was different. I spoke with the event staff and asked if they just use my name during check in. They respected that and complied!
The initial shock.
The three people and I joined a group of students and community members for breakfast and icebreakers. Two of people I supported didn’t appear to have a visible disability; they were labeled with a mild intellectual disability. The third person had Williams Syndrome.
It was interesting viewing how uncomfortable some people appeared at first.
However, the person with Williams Syndrome introduced himself to the table and began chatting about his job. He also made a few jokes during the rest of the icebreakers.
By the time we were leaving to the volunteering site, everyone was well acquainted and comfortable.
Making a Difference.
The site was a nursing home.
When we arrived. The volunteers labeled with disabilities naturally became part of the gang. They independently asked the other volunteers if they wanted to work together. No one was denied a partner.
We helped lead board games with the residents and had coffee too. It was a great time.
Saved by making the initiative.
The amazing thing was, at lunch time we met in the cafeteria…
The field based supervisor told us that they did not plan for a lunch. Everyone was confused and getting hungry.
The volunteers were starting to leave to take a no-lunch break.
The person with Williams Syndrome approached the director and asked if lunch was provided.
He returned and rallied us up, stating that lunch was provided in the first place.
All we had to do was ask and nobody did but him.
Changing the perception of society towards people with disabilities.
The remarkable thing about this reverse volunteering experience was how at first, people were leery and uncomfortable around the volunteers with disabilities.
The more the day progressed, that attitude changed. It completely changed after lunch time.
At the end of the day, everyone reflected about their experience and how it was a great way to spend Martin Luther King Day.
Reverse volunteering is a great way to alter the perceptions towards people with disabilities.
With my experience, a majority of the volunteers with my agency have to spend 20 or more hours with a person as a requirement for a university class. The role of the volunteer is to teach a skill or be their friend.
Rarely do these type of volunteers stick around after the 20 hours.
By promoting reverse volunteering and showing the community that people with disabilities are more alike than different.
These type of experiences can humble people and alter any negative stereotypes.
This is the power of community inclusion.