On Friday, March 4th I attended the first annual Youth dis-Abilities Awareness Event at AT:LAST in Columbia, Maryland. The goals for the event (organized and facilitated by Volunteer Maryland Coordinator and fellow AmeriCorps member Nicole) were to bring awareness among middle and high school students about how technology assists those living with disabilities.
I didn’t really know what to expect, however when I walked in I was greeted by the sight of chairs in rows, balloons, and some incredibly friendly volunteers. Nicole has been busy not only planning events but also recruiting volunteers. Upon starting with AT:LAST, there was only one volunteer who helped with IT needs. Nicole’s recruitment efforts have been effective. At the event alone, I counted 6 volunteers, not to mention the staff members who were helping! I spoke with one volunteer who shared that she was a speech pathologist who felt she needed to find something to do to give back to the disabled community outside of work time. Another volunteer shared that she (a high school student) wanted to go into the health care field and thought that volunteering with an organization that assists disabled individuals would be a great way to earn service learning hours.
Nicole started with her organization (AT:LAST) at the end of September along with 33 other VMCs after completing the 2 and a half week Volunteer Maryland training called Pre-Service Training. During this time, VMCs are trained on all aspects of volunteer management from foundation building to program sustainability. It was great to see Nicole’s dedication to the program at AT:LAST as she implemented . As I observed her, she greeted every volunteer by name, explained the house rules and gave a run-down of the night. She was constantly engaging her guest speakers by asking them if they needed anything and offering them beverages and light refreshments. She even took time to show a volunteer (who had revealed he too had a disability that affected his fine motor skills) an iPad application that could potentially help him take notes in class.
The program for the night consisted of an icebreaker and introduction followed by three speakers. Dinner followed and afterwards, participants got a chance to take their pick of three service projects that they wanted to complete; all being some form of assistive technology.
The three speakers were Amanda, Christine, and Thomas. Each shared a little bit about their story, about their disability, they shared what assistive technology they used, and shared some of their goals for 2011. Each person had theme music to start them off. Amanda, who is visually impaired, started her speech off to “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. She showed us her iPod (hailing over 4000 songs!) that had a function which allowed it to talk to her. Christine, who was disabled after sustaining brain injuries, started to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”. She showed the participants how she uses a speech communicator to talk to people. Finally, Thomas (introduced by Usher’s song “DJ Got Us Falling in Love Again”) who is also visually impaired showed us his Amigo, a small screen that magnifies print on a page.
It feels great when one sees the work of VMCs come to fruition. This event is a testament to the work that not only Nicole is doing with her organization, but to AmeriCorps members serving throughout the nation.
Are you an AmeriCorps member currently serving in Maryland? Tell us at Volunteer Maryland about your upcoming events!