By Julie

Have you considered finding a volunteer assignment for your child with Down syndrome?  Jump right in, the water is fine!

Our 12-year-old son, Miles, is an energetic, social guy who loves being around all types of people.  About a year ago, my husband and I began talking about finding a place for Miles to volunteer.  His older brother had worked throughout high school, and Miles wanted a job of his own.  As we thought about a good fit for Miles, we felt his volunteer assignment should focus on interacting with people, take place within his community, and be frequent enough to keep him interested and engaged.  We noticed from interactions with family and community members that Miles is good with the elderly. His understanding of the need for a more gentle approach coupled with his loving and non-judgmental manner seemed a good match for this group.

A friend of ours who works at Sunrise Assisted Living in Glen Ellyn introduced us to their Activities and Volunteer Coordinator.  Miles came in for an interview and made quite an impression.  In February 2011, he started volunteering about every 3 weeks at Sunrise on Saturday mornings.  Miles stays for an hour and a half.  First he signs in and puts on his nametag.  Then he greets the resident dog, George.  Miles finds and greets his friends and plays an activity such as volleyball with them on the main floor.  For volleyball, everyone sits in chairs on two sides of a net and takes turns hitting a beach ball back and forth – great movement exercise and social interaction for the residents.  Miles participates and is encouraging and helpful.  The assisted living residents move on to yoga class and Miles moves on to his next audience.

The second audience Miles sees at Sunrise seems quite enamored with him – the Alzheimer’s and memory care residents.  They also play volleyball together, and Miles can really get their funny bones working!  We’re told that Miles’ visits sometimes provide just the positive attitude adjustment these residents need.  One of the great things about his job is that hugs are encouraged!  He is an expert hugger.

Miles has pride and increased self-esteem through his volunteering.  Whenever we drive by Sunrise Assisted Living, he tells us “there’s my job!”  The Sunrise residents are often out and about in our community, and Miles saw them once at a local restaurant.  Hugs all around.

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