By Bryan Guan
I have never considered myself to be a kind or a humanitarian person. To be honest, when I started volunteering at Joy Center every Saturday, it wasn’t to “challenge myself” or to “help out those less fortunate than me.” Sure, I had some “pity” for those in need, but my thoughts were still centered on myself. I did not intend for volunteering to be anything more than words on a lifeless college application. However, even though I planned for it to be an artificial cherry on top for my college apps, it ended up marking an important milestone in my life.
Joy Center is a church-sponsored organization in which volunteers help people with disabilities, especially those who are mentally challenged. In truth, this was untrained special education. At first, I was taken by surprise. The students who came in were not the children I expected, but instead fully grown adults. It was easy to see that they all had differing levels of disability, and it was a bit stunning at first. It was a strange feeling for me. I was saddened by their disabilities, and simultaneously glad that, well, I wasn’t. I reflected on my own life: how privileged I am just to be able to think and live a normal life, how privileged I am just to have my brain develop correctly, how privileged I am to not be “disabled.”
If I were to describe all the students with one single word, that word would be “dignified.” They are worthy of our full honor and respect. They dress elegantly, either with nice polos and khaki pants, or pretty dresses. They make sure every room they exit is spotless. However, they are not individuals incapable of individual thought who simply blindly follow orders. They are unique and passionate individuals. Rob loves elegant hats (particularly fedoras). Phil loves taking out the trash. Jing loves books, though he struggles to read them. Izzy loves basketball, and is still a die-hard Laker fan. When I juxtapose myself with them, I end up being the one who is a drone of habit and repetition, consumed so much by my school life that I lose the valuable time to appreciate and explore.
From working with these students, I have become more self-aware. In reality, the disabled are not the way our sometimes ignorant society portrays them. In truth, we are more privileged than they are. We have the ability to achieve some things that they cannot. However, we sometimes sink into the hole we believe was meant for them. We are the ones who become the dirty, the narcissistic, and the lesser. We do not care about respecting others, or more importantly: respecting ourselves. Why go the extra step to pick up what I dropped? We fail to realize that by not picking up what we left behind (figuratively and literally), we also shed a tiny yet important piece of our dignity. Sometimes, we get so caught in other people's disabilities, we become blind to our own. Don’t be so focused on punctuating our differences that you become ignorant of our similarities. The students are truly special in their own way. We should be, too.
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