For the past year and a half, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to volunteer with kids at The Kilmer Center at my middle school and then on my own outside of school. It’s really been an eye-opener for me.
When I began to volunteer, it was difficult to get some of the kids to open up and talk – to relax and trust me. I was new to them, and they had been bullied. I learned that we don’t take much time to consider the serious amount of bullying people with disabilities go through, especially in middle school. We all make snap judgments about who people really are and what they are like without investing our time in getting to know them. As I continued to spend more time volunteering, the kids slowly opened up. They talked to me about how mean people could be to them and how it was nice to have someone spend time with them as a peer and friend. It brought me to tears.
In middle school, everyone is trying to “fit in.” It can be hard enough trying to wear the “right” clothes, say the “right” things, or have the “right” friends, so if you stand out even a little from the crowd, it’s like you have a giant target on your back. A kid with a disability has to deal with all of those things plus additional personal challenges. The fact that anyone would treat someone with a disability less than the amazing human beings they are is sickening. I’ve worked with many different kids. Some are on the autism spectrum, some have down syndrome, some face physical challenges. None of them have a mean bone in their body. So those who feel the need to attack people who are vulnerable because of obstacles they were born with makes me so sad. Everyone on this planet faces unique challenges.
You may ask, “What can I do?” or “Do I need special training?”. Not usually!
The best way to spread kindness to a kid with a disability is THE SAME way you show kindness towards any of your other friends! Decorate their locker for their birthday, find out their favorite snack and bring it in, invite them to sit at your lunch table or go sit at theirs, have a studying session! We all love seeing our friends outside of school. So, don’t feel like you can only hang out with your new friends when you’re volunteering! Keeping any challenges they may have in mind, you can find many exciting, awesome things to do. Go swimming, take a trip to the park, watching a movie, hang out at your house, or do a craft! There are so many opportunities to help make sure all kids feel included!
So, the next time you see someone in a challenging situation, stop the judgment, ask if you can help. Make an effort to get to know them. Because the friendships I have made are some of the most honest and loyal friendships I’ve experienced. And that’s the tea, sis.
Looking for a place to start?
1. Check with your class teacher/school advisor about getting involved as a mentor at your school.
2. Participate in Best Buddies International. They are active in all 50 states and even have programs internationally. You can call (305) 374 – 2233 to get information about your local chapter or visit their website bestbuddies.org
3. If you love sports, you can even volunteer with the Special Olympics. You can find a program near you by visiting specialolympics.org.