Freshman Kimberly Casto writes about working at Alternative Pathways, an adult foster care home
"My Streetfest group of 22 was assigned to go to two houses a bus ride away to paint and clean. These houses were homes for adults with quite minor to very major mental disabilities. When we arrived, introductions were given, lunch was eaten, and then we began to clean up the yard, paint the walls and fix other parts of the houses. After singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to an overjoyed client, we all got down to hard work.
I slipped a pair of oversized gloves onto my hands and began gathering the weeds in the yard. Initially consumed by conversation and uprooting weeds, I barely noticed that a few of the disabled adults began to help us work. When I looked up, however, I saw that about five or six adults, not including the board members, were cleaning, painting, and moving things right alongside of us. They were helping us to serve them. As time passed, more of them came to help us serve. The utter joy and dedication that both the students and the adults expressed as we all encouraged each other and worked side-by-side was truly inspiring. Later, a student said that one woman with whom she was painting consistently asked “Am I doing this right?” and would smile the sincerest smile when the student responded “You’re doing great.”
Eventually the yard ran out of weeds to be pulled, and everyone turned to the paint and brush. A friend and I went inside to paint the trimming of the TV room where a woman sat watching The Fairly OddParents from the couch. This woman suffered severe down-syndrome and dementia. Before entering the room, we had to be introduced to her so that she would not think we were strangers. While we painted, the woman on the couch laid down to take a nap, and then a caretaker, a wonderful lady, came over to stroke her hair and invite her out for some ice cream. It was then that I realized the sorrowful beauty of the situation. These disabled adults no longer had parents to take care of them. They no longer had a motherly figure to hug them when they were sad, encourage them when they were down, stroke their hair while they were sleeping. Essentially, the care-takers were the parents who took a part of their hearts to give to these adults who were in need.
During the introduction to Streetfest on campus, the speakers continually spoke about ‘service-learning’ as opposed to ‘volunteering’. Service-learning was explained as not simply helping those in need—to clear your conscience or to get some sort of obligation out of the way—but was defined as a service that brought the gain of learning for those who served. When I served at these homes, I did not only serve to receive vitality or moral checkpoints. I served to learn, and learn I did. I was taught much about how to love and how to live selflessly, and how to humble oneself to the place where joy and wonder comes simply."