* This post is dedicated to my mother, Ann, and Dorothy (and everyone involved with HEC) *
I went to a party this weekend. There was music and there was dancing. There were lots of friends. Oh, and endless smiles. It was what good parties are made of. It wasn’t, however, your typical “party” crowd.
The dance floor was crowded with wheelchairs and no one had “the moves like Jagger” in our crew. No one needed fancy footwork to impress this group. Young and old alike were in the room for one reason – to come together in one place and feel one love – the kind of love that is so authentic that you have to witness it to believe that it truly exists.
This party was a highlight of a four-day retreat called HEC (Handicapped Encounter Christ). Basically, it is four days of friendship and prayer. As wonderful as the religious aspect is for all participants of the weekend, what I find even more amazing are the volunteers who give of themselves – in one of the most selfless ways possible – and take care of those who can’t necessarily take care of themselves.
Volunteers are matched with Candidates and become their “buddy” for the four days. Volunteers – sometimes more than one per candidate, depending on need due to the severity of the disability – will, in many cases, feed, change, bathe, and dress their candidates. In cases where these friends are wheelchair bound, they will also need to be moved into bed after a long day of activities. Some candidates are self-sufficient and stay with their buddy more for companionship and prayer than basic life skill needs.
I am honored to personally know and keep the company with many of the people who volunteer to work with these men and women who have mental and/or physical handicaps that are beyond my understanding. Handicaps at HEC run the gamut from Down Syndrome and mentally challenged to people with traumatic brain injuries – among other disabilities.
Due to one reason or another, I have never volunteered for the weekend. It takes an extremely strong and humble person to leave their families for four full days of selfless services to strangers. I am not that person. It just isn’t for me. And that’s ok.
A person that I can be though is a person who goes to the “Hootenanny” (the Saturday evening party each HEC weekend – also called “The Hoot”) and talk with, laugh with and dance with anyone who with talk, laugh and dance with me. With the DJ cranking out party classics like The Macarena, Cotton Eyed Joe and YMCA and the pure happiness that fills the room, it is easy to see why my children and I look forward to this event each year.
And to all the volunteers – including the kitchen staff who cook and serve all the meals throughout the weekend – thank you. You touch the lives of so many people on this amazing weekend – including my children and I who witness your compassion and genuine good will for all people.
You are special people. Very special.