I was in ninth grade when I first started volunteering at the Friendship Circle. I really had no idea what I was getting into… My first day, I was paired with a little boy named Aidan. How could I have envisioned that he and I would create a friendship so precious and meaningful, that I would soon see him as my little brother? Over the past four years, I’ve been so fortunate to be a friend to him, to hear his excited recollections of his favorite movies, to sing along with him to the Phineas and Ferb theme song, and to dance and laugh with him. To see him open up, even in subtle ways, such as in detailed stories of his day, makes me hopeful that I’ve been a positive part of his life.
Volunteering at the Friendship Circle changed who I was, and made me aware of who I was becoming. As soon as you step into the Friendship Circle, you are surrounded by people who are so committed to be of service that it is acutely humbling. Growing up in this day and age, it is so easy to fall into the trap of equating success with opulence. I’m grateful that I was able to volunteer in an environment like the Friendship Circle, where I was reminded that success is about personal growth: actively working to become a better version of yourself. When I hear the word ‘passion’, it has a face, and it’s every single staff member that works there. Being surrounded by so much compassion and determination encourages me to be better: as a volunteer, as a friend, as a person.
For me, this most directly translated into actively advocating on behalf of people those with disabilities, especially instances where people would use derogatory expressions to mock their disabilities. These incidents became painful as I began to pay more attention to the words of people around me in high school. My junior year, I heard a boy go as far as to mimic the facial expressions of people with Down syndrome. Even recalling the moment makes me feel emotionally agitated… I’m proud that I told him to stop, that I explained to him how appalling and hurtful his words were. Because of my experience at the Friendship Circle, and my friendship with Aidan, I’ve learned the value of using my voice, especially when it can be most difficult.
To learn more about the Friendship Circle, CLICK HERE.