In the middle of the board meeting a panel of clients came in. Jimmy was led by the hand, since he is blind. He sat on the end smiling. Kristi was in the middle, wearing a bright red turtle neck, her hands folded as she studied the group. Thomas was on the other side, hair combed back, stylish glasses, and shirt tucked in neatly.
This was the scene last week as I sat in the Opportunity Partners (OP) meeting. OP provides housing and jobs to people with disabilities. In reality the organization promotes much more as a community. It’s easy to think that just us “typical” people do best affiliating with one another, but the clients at OP showed me that everyone thrives in groups.
The people OP serves have different challenges than most of us. Their range of physical and intellectual differences might sound like a downer. Instead, the panel in front of me could barely sit in their seats. After Jimmy finished sharing what he loved about his house, he smiled so wide it looked like his cheeks might crack. He gave the victory sign over his head.
One board member asked Kristi what she liked best about OP. I expected to hear something about her job or housemates. Instead she said, “I love our volunteering. We do it a lot. Sometimes it’s a trip to Feed my Starving Children. We get to fill the rice packs and organize the food for the kids—you know, people that are less fortunate.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise: Research shows that our wellbeing is always related to other people. We feel better, and find we have something to give even when it may not feel that way.
We see that we find God in between us when we fulfill the impulse to support others.
It goes even further than that. Volunteerism has both psychological and physical effects: A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University in Psychology and Aging showed that people age 50 and older who regularly served others were less prone to developing high blood pressure. This is critical since high blood pressure leads to stroke, heart problems and early death.
We heard more as the conversation progressed. Thomas wasn’t so serious, “I’ll admit I have a pretty great social life.” A line from GK Chesterson popped in my head, as these guys seemed to have cracked a secret code he wrote about: “It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light.”
Throughout the discussion the group’s service orientation was obvious.
Wait a minute, I thought, these are people that most of us think we need to help. But this is wrong. While the OP clients, or my son Porter, give all of us a chance to help, they also teach us that the need to be of service is laced into our DNA. It’s a universal human connection between all of us. We are wired to help each other, whether or not we ourselves have a diagnosis.
The panel finished a few minutes later. Kristi leaned forward for her conclusion, “I’m honored to be here. We’re going to do great things!” All of us clapped, including the panelists.
To read more from Sarah Bridges, please buy her memoir “A Bad Reaction” (Skyhorse Publishing) available on Amazon.com. For more “Free Range Lives” messages, click and subscribe to the blog. We appreciate your support and your “shares” as we create a community of support and hope.