In my freshman year in high school I decided I wanted to receive a “diploma with distinction” when I graduated. To achieve this I would need to have a certain number of community service hours. Deciding what to do was made easier by looking to my family for help. My mother works for The Arc, Oneida-Lewis Chapter. They are always looking for volunteers to help out with various events, so I asked her what was available. The result has kept me busy, exposed me to people I would not normally know and taught me a lot about myself.
For the past four years I have volunteered for the Saturday Friends program at The Arc. Saturday Friends is a program for children with autism and their siblings. Two Saturdays each month, kids come to play together and participate in special activities. One purpose of the program is to show siblings of kids with autism that there are other families like their own. I think this is a great concept. I can understand how a child can feel they are the only ones who have someone like their brother or sister in their family. Coming to Saturday Friends shows them the issues their family deal with every day are issues other families have too.
To be honest, there have been Saturday mornings where I have not jumped out of bed, excited to get to Saturday Friends by 8:30 a.m. In my freshman year I went because I was determined to get those service hours. I listened to my parents tell me how important it is to volunteer, to give back to your community, to do something for someone who might not be as fortunate as me. I would shake my head in agreement, as it went in one ear and out the other. During my sophomore year, I noticed when someone wasn’t there. It mattered to me when someone wasn’t having a good day. And I was getting closer and closer to the target number of service hours I needed. Pretty soon I could sleep in every Saturday morning! Early on in my junior year I reached that golden number. But if I didn’t show up I knew there would be kids who would wonder where I was. There would be one girl, who, if I didn’t show up, wouldn’t have anyone to glue herself to all morning and follow around. Maybe the attendance that I’m in charge of wouldn’t be done exactly right.
So every other Saturday morning I arrive at Saturday Friends by 8:30 a.m. I still can’t honestly say I’m cheerful while I’m getting ready. But once I get there, the friends I’ve made are happy to see me. Their parents ask about my college plans and wish me well. I only have a few Saturday Friends mornings left. I’ve learned that it is important to volunteer, to give back, to help others. I’ve learned quite a bit about autism. I’ve learned that you can have a wide variety of friends and I’ve learned that reaching a certain number of service hours to receive a diploma with distinction really wasn’t that important after all.
By Morgan White
Senior at Clinton High School