It all started after I had volunteered with our church's Vacation Bible School program. Working with the kids made me realize how much I loved teaching and interacting with them. It wasn't long before I had signed up for working with the children's Sunday school as well. My assignment, however, was not what I had expected.
The principal had put me down for watching over Jesse. Jesse was like any other 4th grade boy, except for one thing: He was profoundly autistic. Trying to keep children with special needs well integrated in society, Jesse basically needed a caretaker during Sunday school to make sure he stayed quiet and controlled. This task sounds a lot easier than it actually was.
Things started out a bit rocky at first, but eventually Jesse settled down to where he could sit still during class without a single outburst. I would bring him toys and puzzles to fiddle around with to distract him from shouting out random phrases and getting up from his seat and walking around. However, I was still not satisfied.
I chose to volunteer because I wanted to build relationships with the kids; I wanted to have an impact in their lives as they simultaneously changed mine. But that seemed impossible with Jesse. Sunday school sessions passed by painfully slow. I felt that I wasn't accomplishing anything. I kept thinking that no matter what I did, Jesse wouldn't get better. I felt as if he didn't care if I was there or not, and that it was all a waste of time. Seeing the imagination and ingenuity of a normal boy trapped inside this body with no way of expressing himself and no way of being truly helped depressed me. And I felt even worse when I caught myself dreading Sundays, dreading working with him.
But one day my mom came by my room while I was working on some homework. She told me she was proud of me for 'putting up with Jesse.' I didn't feel like I deserved the praise and told her instead how I felt about the situation. Then she told me something curious. She told me that according to the Sunday school teachers, I was the best chaperone for Jesse they had experienced yet. They told her that I was the first person who didn't need to take Jesse outside to calm down during his outbursts. They said that I was the first one who could help Jesse interact during class on a few occasions. They told her that I was the first aid he had listened to.
Hearing this made me cry. All this time, I was only thinking about myself and not about what I could do to impact others' lives. I became conceited and nearly forgot the real reason of signing up for the volunteer work in the first place. I may not have known it, but I was able to have an impact by just being there. My goals, ambitions and expectations for this placement were idealistic, impossible, and unimportant. What was important was that Jesse received what he needed.
Next Sunday is the last Sunday I'll be working with Jesse. I hope that he'll continue to grow and interact with the outside world. And, honestly, if he never remembers or recognizes me, that's ok. I was where I was needed, when I was needed.
Submitted by Anonymous