When I married in the middle 1990s I became a stepfather to two great kids…a boy who was 7 and a girl who was about 5. Throughout these past 17 years I grew to love them as my own. Both did well in high school, the boy finished college and is teaching at a local school. The girl (now a young lady), Carly, was a lot like me in high school. Great potential but didn’t take high school too seriously.
She went to a local community college on a softball scholarship and had a pretty successful tenure. What was most exciting was that she really got hooked on school. She graduated with her Associate’s degree and moved to SIU to earn her bachelors in therapeutic recreation. She should graduate in summer 2012. Although I am very proud of her scholarly growth and accomplishments, I’m most proud of what she is currently doing.
Both my wife and I supported the kids to go to college, helped them financially, but expected them to be fiscally and grade-responsible. Any course they earned a C on, they paid for it. The good news is that there were few C’s among the two of them.
To help pay her bills, Carly found work at a local residential home to care for developmentally challenged individuals (I don’t even know if I know the proper terminology). These are individuals who are middle age and older, who live in group homes. They have an intellectual age between 3-6. Carly serves as a care-taker for these people. The home she works at houses about 6 middle aged women (ranging from 45-65).
Now, first I’ve always admired people who could work with developmentally challenged individuals. I’m sure there will be a special place in Heaven for their efforts. But it really didn’t hit home until I saw first hand the interaction that Carly had with one of her clients.
I went back to Carbondale for the Labor Day weekend. Besides taking a break from my job, it was a chance for me to see my daughter Olivia play tennis and to help celebrate her 15th birthday. On Saturday (her birthday) she was in the St. Louis metro area at a big tennis tournament. We managed to get home that evening around 7:00 pm. Since it was too late for a family celebration, we decided to celebrate it with family the next day.
Carly works at her residential house on Sundays but was given special permission to take one of her clients, Helen (not her real name), out in the community to take her shopping and drive around. It just so happened that it was Helen’s birthday. She was celebrating her 64th birthday. Her intellectual age was probably less than 3, but she seemed happy and excited to be out of the house. Carly brought her over to our house to participate in my younger daughter’s birthday celebration. A half-dozen people were there to enjoy a special Sunday dinner, birthday cake and presents for Olivia.
Carly brought Helen to the house to join the festivities. I watched as Carly helped her get into the house; she tended to her needs; she laughed with Helen, told her stories, and had her participate in our little party. The fact that it was Helen’s birthday made her smile big.
The interaction that Carly had with this person was absolutely spell-binding. I couldn’t believe that this was the same person who just a few years earlier seemed to delight in causing her younger sister to be frustrated. Carly talked with pride on how she takes care of not only Helen but the other residents at this home. She helped Helen to the table to participate in the traditional singing of Happy Birthday and the blowing out of the candles. A few of the others put a couple of dollars together to give to Helen for her birthday (she was delighted that she had nearly $4.00 in her purse–something that she counted several times while at our house). Carly tended to her hygiene needs, helped clean her up after eating cake, and moved her back to the lounge chair in the living room. All the while I sat in amazement and awe at home this person has developed into this mature, responsible, and caring adult.
Of course, later that afternoon I ‘m reading the local paper; headlines includes a local college basketball player who has been arrested for crimes he committed; I see that a local politician is being charge of bribery; I read that the former governor of Illinois is going to be sentenced to prison; I read that a young movie star who has been convicted of drunk driving will get off without any sentence and has signed a multimillion dollar deal to star in an upcoming movie; I read that a group of youth caused damage to a church. Nowhere did I read anything about youth like Carly who are serving the communities that they live in; how they are helping humankind and providing service to those individuals who have been given a raw deal in this life. Carly will undoubtedly graduate, get a job and probably make a ‘livable’ living; but such income will be far less than the recent professional athlete who is being paid $15 M a year and has done nothing good in society except catch a football.
So Carly, my hat’s off to you and to the thousands of others who have unselfishly devoted their time and effort to helping those who are truly needing such help. It makes a father proud and I hope you realize how important you are to these people (however, chances are you won’t realize your importance in this lifetime). However, when you are in that special spot in Heaven, it will become clear on how much you’ve done.