Welcome to The Journey
A news magazine created to connect, inform & inspire
Issue: October 2021, Living, Inspired with IDD
Carol Pearson

It’s lovely to read stories about the general public volunteering their time and talents to people with disabilities. They serve as coaches with the Special Olympics, volunteer to help with transportation, advocate for better access in the community through grassroots efforts, and more. But let’s turn that narrative on its head for a moment, and talk about a different kind of volunteer.

“Selena has volunteered at the Western North Carolina Nature Center weekly over a period of several years,” writes Paula Snyder in ActivateGood. “She chops up vegetables and fruits to feed Becca the Deer at the center,” and does an “incredibly good job volunteering.”

Matt volunteers at ABCCM, a nonprofit organization that addresses poverty, homelessness, and access to healthcare for the under-served in his community. “His duties include stocking, and some food preparation during the organization’s meal services,” Paula writes.

What Selena, Matt, and so many others have in common is a love of giving back, of being part of something larger than themselves, and of helping others. They also are people with I/DD … and that doesn’t exclude them from volunteering in their communities.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities can serve their communities in many ways.

Adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities often make magnificent and passionate volunteers, sharing their skills, time, and talents in their communities.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) can serve their communities in many ways,” notes this post from TheArc.org. As an example, they note some of the ways people with I/DD help, from serving meals at soup kitchens to working on community beautification projects, and spending time with seniors. Volunteerism fits beautifully into the mission of The Arc, which has existed since the 1950s to help people with I/DD living fulfilling lives as a part of their communities.

Yet sometimes people with disabilities have fewer opportunities to volunteer in their community, the article continues, due to some common challenges:

  • Some people think that people with disabilities can only receive services from others, rather than give back.
  • Volunteer groups may not have any experience working with people with I/DD and do not know how to support them in their volunteer work.
  • Volunteer locations aren’t always accessible to people with I/DD, and transportation can be a problem too
  • People with I/DD may struggle to find appropriate opportunities to give back to their communities.

Toward a more inclusive approach to volunteerism

Organizations, employers, and communities have become more aware of the need to be actively supporting inclusive volunteering. The payoff is worth the effort; communities are enhanced, and the volunteers themselves gain valuable skills they can often carry over into paid employment.

“[Research] shows that volunteering can play a significant role in the process of education and the subsequent involvement of people with disabilities in the new socio-cultural environment,” writes Aneta Marková in a research paper published in Science Direct.

She believes the skills people with I/DD gain from volunteering are easily transferred to skills needed in the workplace. This is leading to a greater emphasis on inclusive volunteering, like the program run by Pathways to Employment.

“Volunteering is widely recognised as a platform that allows people to build skills, create networks – socially and professionally – and as a way to contribute to the community,” their website notes. “Through the Program, we match participants with meaningful volunteering roles that help build the skills, experience, and confidence needed to work towards employment goals.”

Taking the first step

If you know someone with I/DD who may be interested in volunteering, The Arc has a great downloadable resource called My Volunteer Vision that can help you get started. It will help them define the kind of volunteer work that would interest them and fit their lifestyle. The sheet can then be shared with friends and family, professionals you trust, and your local chapter of The Arc to help find volunteer opportunities that might be a good fit.

Everyone volunteers for different reasons. For some, the goal might be to gain work skills. For others, like Selena and Matt, the social interaction of volunteering is its own reward. For communities and organizations that actively support volunteers with I/DD, the payoffs are immeasurable. Contact your local Arc for information on volunteer opportunities in your area. There is so much we can do … together.

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