Youth Forward Scholarship 2018 – Bridge the Gap

Name: Lauren Abrams
From: Sterling, Massachusetts
Grade: 12th Grade
School: Wachusett Regional High School
Votes: 0

The
area in which I chose to volunteer is with people with disabilities,
whether that be mental or physical. I work with people of all ages
through the Seven Hills Foundation, which primarily helps clients
with mental/developmental disabilities, and a group of visually
impaired people (VIP’s, as they prefer to be called). I chose this
area because of the awareness and culture that surrounds these
people, and how alienated they can be made to feel by the rest of
society. In many ways, our culture excludes the disabled, by treating
them if they are a completely separate species simply because they do
not fit the normalized definition of “functional.” I’ve spent a
few hours each weekend, on average, volunteering at St. Vincent’s
Hospital with a group of visually impaired people. As a senior and
President of my high school’s Leo Club (the youth division of
Lion’s International, a worldwide service foundation), I have as of
recently been forced into a bit more of a scheduling position for my
150+ club members with Seven Hills so that my classmates can gain the
same life changing experience with their facility that I did.
However, since joining the club in my sophomore year, I’ve totaled
over 500 hours of volunteering through my high school career.

As
a volunteer, my main goal and responsibility is connection and
kindness. At St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester MA, my fellow
students and I guide the visually impaired individuals through the
hallways of the hospital, and at Seven Hills, I am responsible for
being an extra set of hands at craft nights and other activities
offered to the clients. My biggest challenge with these activities
had been the connection; people with disabilities are sectioned out
of public school classes, they aren’t seen in abundance in public
areas, and are often stereotyped as being “different” in a way
that doesn’t have an overwhelmingly positive connotation. As a
result, people (including myself at first) become conditioned to have
a sort of fear of the disabled because they don’t have any level of
experience or understanding. Both parties are negatively impacted by
the fear of the unknown, and that was initially the biggest challenge
for me. However, the greatest challenge became my greatest
satisfaction. Efforts to integrate myself into their world, to
understand the world through their lens instead of mine, changed my
ability to empathize and form valuable connections with people who
don’t live the same way I do. This process erased my surface
perceptions and helped me understand the humanity we all have in
common that lies beneath every appearance, regardless of what
societal judgements and beliefs have been forced upon us. I’ve
learned to condition myself out of the forces of stereotypes and
predisposed judgements or prejudices that we learn from our
environment, and to look at every human being as a person alone,
rather than part of a category.


Personally,
I feel that forward looking is being inspired to form goals and
concerns, and working proactively to create movement and change from
the very root of the problem. I see my activities as forward looking
in the sense that connecting with new people and helping to create a
mutually beneficial ability to communicate is the only way that we
can create inclusive environments and make the people who are
unfairly marginalized both feel and truly be accepted. The
volunteering I’ve done is not just about helping people maneuver
themselves, it’s social connection, and it began at the most basic
level. And, as the leader of my club, I’ve found ways to help a
large number of my peers’ experience this too. Through these
activities, I hope to create more inclusive perceptions of people
with disabilities. I think these efforts do make a difference, and I
think even in thirty years, that opinion would remain the same.
Everyday students my age, in my classes or on my sports teams, get
the opportunity to feel beautiful at school dances, or feel talented
in music performances or athletic programs, or feel proud and
intelligent in their classes. All of these emotions have one thing in
common; acceptance and admiration by one’s peers. Even if it’s
just one group of 12 clients who come to an activity night or a
visually impaired woman I help maneuver through St. Vincent’s
Hospital while we chat about careers and past experiences, each of
these people feels acknowledged and as though they matter. Whether
it’s one person or 1,000 people, someone’s world was a little bit
happier. Deservingly so. Work like this adds up, and every single
individual person is one more piece of the puzzle to a happier
community for everyone.


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