Academy for Young Leaders is a group of local high school students, grades 10-12 who participate in this leadership training program co-sponsored by Daviess County and Owensboro Public Schools. This social event was coordinated by Larkin Wetzel who works as a speech pathologist with Henderson County Schools. Larkin had previously completed her speech therapy practicum during a summer at Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) while finishing up college. During this short span, our Campus left a deep impression on Larkin which motivated the reconnection in setting up this Valentine’s Day party. And a party it was! For two hours, these young volunteers made Valentine’s Day cards and played UNO, Dominoes and Sorry! with fifteen or more Centre Pointe Cottage residents. I digitally captured the fun moments, smiles and joyous expressions on camera.
When I arrived at the Young Building ten minutes before the party started, tables were set up in a "u-shape" design. I felt the nervous energy in the room which was awfully quiet, despite the fact a dozen teenagers were there. I met Larkin, and learned none of these young leaders had ever worked with or been around individuals with developmental disabilities. As the first of their party guests arrived, I noticed the students’ awkwardness as they attempted to connect and relate with them. Connie was first on the scene, and obviously had something on her mind because she simply kept repeating a one-syllable vocalization that sounded like “augh”. The Direct Support Provider (DSP) whispered something in Connie’s ear and she quieted, allowing the opportunity for two young gals at her table to start the process of making a Valentine’s Day card for her. Slowly, others arrive as their dining schedules wrapped up. Becky, another resident, arrived; her body language and facial expression gave the impression she was less than enthused to be there. Her DSP set her next to Connie, and so, the Valentine makers worked to engage Becky in art activity. Becky appeared unimpressed and disinterested as she simply watched them.
More folks arrived, and as such, more of the young Leaders were forced to engage and interact. In the center of the U-shaped table arrangement was John sitting with four young men who were playing Dominoes upon his arrival. After they finished their game, the young leaders included John by “dealing” his dominoes. Over the course of ten or fifteen minutes, these young men had figured out how to communicate and interact with a non-verbal John. John would signal with slight head nods to one student who was assisting him with his dominoes selection. The student would finger one domino, look to John who’d nod his approval. The student would then slide the domino over in front of John. At one point, I heard one of John’s competitors say, He’s kicking our butts in Dominoes! I got a nice shot of John looking pretty pleased and smarmy with his game winning performance.
On another side of the room, Charlie, Josh and Bobby sat with several students engaged in a rousing game of UNO. Charlie was having thetime of his life laughing. Josh, in cahoots with his UNO partner, slung with great dramatic flair his card into the pile on the table. Bobby’s UNO partner was an attractive young lady and they were high fiving successful moves. This group was by far the rowdiest bunch at the party as playful accusations of cheating and “in your face” celebrations of game wins took place.
What an honor to witness such activities as this one event. I am continuously surprised and reminded of the blessings available to me through this work, which are really available to anyone who wants to have the opportunity to be involved in some way. And I am continuously reminded of the power of hearts connecting, as two Youth Leaders would demonstrate in their interactions with Connie and Becky.
In the Next Blog Entry: Here Comes Trouble's Match - “One of the startled Youth Leaders asked if she should be leaving. I smiled as I watched Connie “make dust” halfway to her destination; I chuckled . . . .”
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