Friday, June 14, 2013

Fist-Bumps, Hugs, and Tears

With our first “test” presentation out of the way, Shelly was beaming with greater confidence than she’d shown thus far in this new adventure as a volunteer Campus Advocate.  Prior to the test-run of our No R Word presentation, local Evansville Channel WFIE 14News came to the school to interview Shelly about her mission to spread the word, which later aired on the evening news. Additionally, the Messenger-Inquirer came out to Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) the next day to take a photo of Shelly for an article they were doing on the No R Word campaign.  We also did a video promo with Shelly promoting the presentation, and emailed it to all elementary schools in six counties. We even arranged for her storybook reading and our No R Word presentation to be video-recorded, as well as a one-on-one interview with Owensboro Career & Technical College – TV, which later aired on its television cable channel!

All of this hit at once, and Shelly was instantly a superstar!  And Shelly loved it all!  The staff teased her not to forget us little people, which just got her giggling that infectious laugh she has.  Shelly had fun with it, and teasing us.  One morning after three presentations in a row at one school, she announced with a mischievous grin to everyone within earshot that she was going home to “rest her voice.”  The room broke into laughter, as did Shelly.
Our presentation schedule for elementary schools was booming – which culminated into fourteen school appearances in a five-week period! Shelly even accompanied me on a few of the Power Point presentations for the older kids.  I would speak for forty-five minutes, Shelly for five, and after we were done, you would have thought I’d never been in the room!  The kids LOVED Shelly, and Shelly loved the kids.  The younger students asked the funniest questions, such as "Do dogs get cerebral palsy?" and "How fast will your wheelchair go?"; all of which Shelly graciously responded to with pleasure and compassion.

And there were fist-bumps and hugs all around!!  After our presentation, students would leave, passing by Shelly with a “thank you,” “hello,” and fist bumps.  Some children showed their appreciation more deeply with hugs that made Shelly beam in gratitude.  Says Shelly:  “I really enjoyed it, the kids’ curiosity; their facial expressions as they looked at me, and their questions.  I realized I was empowering them to feel comfortable in asking questions about my disability, in talking to someone with a disability, and to feel comfortable approaching and interacting with someone like me.”
At one school, a little girl asked Shelly if anyone had called her the R word.  When Shelly answered, “yes,” the little girl’s empathy overwhelmed as she responded through welling tears that she didn’t understand why people would be so mean to do that, and that people shouldn’t do that.  This young student’s compassion brought tears to my own eyes, and Shelly herself felt emotional.  “I realized then that I was getting my point across because if someone gets that emotional when I’m talking to them, then the point I’m getting across is hitting home, reaching their heart.”

Watching the apprehensive looks of uncertainty as Shelly entered the classroom before our presentation morph into the warm embrace and acceptance afterwards was heartwarming to experience as I witnessed this woman demystify disabilities for the children.  The show of love and acceptance for Shelly and her efforts was visible after each presentation from the students themselves to the dozens of thank you notes, letters, hand-drawn pictures and cards that were sent to us (mostly for her) afterwards.  I found it touching to see Shelly grow into this new community role, and to witness the her confidence boost as she came to realize she truly does have a significant contribution to make as a voice for those with disabilities.
If non-profit programs had agents such as Jerry Maguire involved in these sorts of activities, Shelly would have him negotiating a life-long contract to do the No R Word presentations for the duration of our Spread the Word program!  She’s already informed me she plans on doing it again next year, and there’s no reason for her not to do so, especially since we’ve already received requests from schools to come back and visit.  Through this program, she discovered more fully her own voice, and that she wants to volunteer with children, having already inquired with one local school about the possibility.

I couldn’t be more proud of Shelly who not only took a risk to step out of her comfort zone to make a difference, but who developed as a person in going after what was important to her:  to be of service and make a difference in our community.
In the Next Blog Entry: To Be Announced

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