At the Sandy Community church, I enter the large closet and firmly grasp a round table and roll its large form through a narrow hall into a wide room. I fold out each metal section to create the legs and heave the table upright. I return once again to the closet and reach for the old plastic chairs stacked on the tall heavy cart. One by one, I pull down chairs and take them through the hall into the room, to unfold and place around the tables. Happy noises echo from the kitchen as people move pots and pans and chat together, preparing a meal as I do my own tasks. Each Thursday night I set up tables and chairs, as well as serve food to those who need a warm meal. When I am finished with these tasks I then sit at a table with members of my community, introducing myself and sharing in conversation. I am not forced to go to any of these activities, instead; I’m happy to give what I can.
Those that prepare and cook the food are Patricia Kendrick and some of her employees of DD & MH of Oregon. Patricia’s agency provides Care Providers for adults with disabilities over the age of 21. Most of the food is provided or funded by Sandy Action Center of Sandy, Oregon, which is a food and clothing bank for those who are in need in the city. Each Thursday about six DD & MH employees are there to assist the adults with disabilities contribute to their community. This is their employment, so they are paid to be there. The employees are both male and female and all friendly, kind, caring, helpful adults who are fun to work with.
The clients who assist at these dinners are adults with various disabilities. Some have vision problems, others have intellectual disabilities and others are on the Autism Spectrum, such as me. Each person does what they can, whether helping in the kitchen, setting up the room as I do, or laying out hygiene items or clothing items that have been donated. Many of the clients that serve on those nights have realized that they can do things they thought they couldn’t do and they feel good about what they do and have fun while doing it. I am one of the clients of the agency and I have volunteered and helped others since I was a child.
There are many actions I do that others might consider an interference to their own agendas or schedules. I never think of the things I do an inconvenience, I see them as an opportunity to socialize, help where I can, and meet new people. For some reason, even though as someone with autism I usually prefer to do things by myself, when I do these things it makes me happy. Each Wednesday I volunteer at the Sandy Public Library. Once there I find and pull books, CD’s and movies off shelves for those that have placed an online request. Other times I have used my muscles to lift heavy chunks of wood onto a wood splinter and then stack this freshly cut, fresh smelling wood into organized piles for local widows who will need fuel for their fireplaces for the winter. I work and sweat alongside other men who are happy to serve. Though this type of service project is organized by my church, I have the choice in participating or not. While doing these acts of service it is impossible to not think about the people who will benefit from my efforts.
When I was young, my mother brought me along to help pull weeds for an elderly member of our church. We also weeded and spread barkdust at a local elementary school. We baked cookies and delivered them with Christmas carols. We have baked chicken and potatoes and delivered them in mass quantities to a homeless shelter where I helped serve the battered and worn people a warm meal. I have vacuumed church carpets, washed kitchen counters, swept floors and sanitized toys for toddlers. I have gathered hygiene supplies for the homeless and watched the eyes of homeless men brighten and smiles spread on their face as they ask if these items were for them and almost with reverence, choosing which soap, shampoo or towel they wanted to claim as theirs. These experiences built in me and love to give of myself for the good of others.
The church I belong to always searches for service opportunities. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes we are all children of God and because of that we all have great worth. Sometimes circumstances drag people down; despite those circumstances we need to treat others with respect and kindness. In the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2:17 states, “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow being ye are only in the service of your God.” To me that means that when we serve others, we serve God. In the Old Testament, Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” I am sharing my faith in God by doing these good works.
Each of the opportunities I have had to serve, from a youth to now, has helped me to have more compassion and taught me to grow as an individual. Service has made me more aware of others’ needs and helped me learn to pay attention to people and their circumstances. Giving to others is a way that I not only give to God’s children, but I receive as well. Though I give of my time, sweat and energy, what I receive is a fuller life. I have a disability that is on the Autism Spectrum and because of this disability, I usually prefer to be on my own, reading and learning about topics that interest me. When I serve others, it helps me to stretch, grow, learn, and step outside of the busy thoughts in my head. Though I serve, it is me that receives.