Working with people with special needs… What is this like?
Driving to appointments, cooking, supporting them with their work, assisting them in their every day’s needs, playing together: That’s how a volunteering year in the social sector is usually understood by most people.
But that’s actually not what it really is about when you’re a full time part of a life sharing community like Stanton Home. The misconception already begins with the use of the first word: “working”. Well, yes, it IS kind of like a job with all the responsibilities you’re bearing and with the housework, the cooking and all sorts of rather boring everyday duties. But all these are just the sidelines to the main part of living this way of life: the giving out of love and respect and the taking and getting it in return. The sharing of ourself with each other.
If you’re cooking because you’re on the cooking schedule, then it’s just another obligation to be fulfilled. You might experience it as annoying and stealing your time and maybe you are exhausted and unsatisfied at the end of the day not knowing why. But if you’re cooking because you want to give good food to others, to make them feel happy and well and cared for, then you’ll experience their happiness and thankfulness and you’ll feel good about it yourself. It’s the same with cleaning and with all the other “dumb works”. If you do it because you like it as a tool of seeing and feeling how you bring good feelings to the people you care for, then you have gotten what it is like to be a volunteer.
Nick Stanton once said that this kind of work can only be done by volunteers as you can’t buy this sort of relationship by means of money. What this “giving and getting” kind of service brings about is beyond what you could get with any paid work. He said: “Paid service is no service; paid love is no love; paid help has nothing to do with help”.
And that exactly is the point!
Here at Stanton Home, we do not “work” for money but for experience. For new skills, for learning more about life and about ourselves and for developing our selves. And that is a payment as well, but a totally different one.
It is the kind of payment that parents get for caring for their children and for dedicating their lives to them while they grow up. Even though it is the parents who are having all that work to do while they’re taking care of those new lives, those new lives are showing them parts of the world and views onto it that the parents have never seen before – even though they’ve been living on it for so much longer.
And this is exactly what’s happening when you live together with people with special needs. You give and they give. They receive and you receive. You make a difference and they make a difference.
What is special about Stanton Home? One thing that makes Stanton Home stand out from other life sharing communities is the big variety of cultures coming together under its roofs as well as its accepting of volunteers with small disabilities, physical or mental ones. There are not only a vast amount of different personalities there, but also many different nationalities and abilities. Everyone is different and unique and wonderful in their own way. It doesn’t matter if you’re different in language, religion, intellectual abilities, background, skin color, gender, physical skills or age. It just matters that you are here and that you have decided to be a part of it all.
And this diversity of volunteers is another big step in closing the gap between “disabled” people and those we see as “abled”. Because not only the people with special needs are different, but we are, too. Because everybody is a bit challenged, a little disadvantaged in some respects, in certain ways. Because everyone is different – may it be due to language qualifications or to social skills, to physical restraints or to lack of experience, to his or her history or temperament, origin or personality. And everyone has also special abilities, has unique qualities, has things to give and is teaching different aspects to the ones around him or her. Thoughts. Experiences. Knowledge. Spirit. Love. Open Mindedness.
Stanton Home is much more than a place of people coincidentally working together. It is much more than people living in a shared house and executing tasks together.
It is people sharing a house and a life. Work is just a part of it and the line to off time is not clearly drawn. Shared activities are not confined to shifts, and this does not only apply to the time volunteers spend with each other but also to time spent with the residents. Spending time together is not a piece of work. It is a way of life.
And this is what life sharing is about at Stanton Home: It is an exchange that is beyond work in the sense as we usually understand it and it gives a sense and a meaning to what we’re doing. And this works both ways, for the staff and the volunteers as well as for the residents. It is not only that we share our life with them, but they also share theirs with us. And they make a difference for us as much as we make one for them.
Zora Achtnich, Long Term Volunteering Project, USA (2016)
For more information about this project or others click here: www.longterm.sciint.org.
If you are interested in one of the projects, please contact an SCI branch, group or partner organization in your country.