I recently had an experience that has positively changed my life forever. My family participated in a soccer camp for children with autism. This experience exceeded all of my expectations.
First a little background: An absolutely wonderful little girl with autism lives down the street from us. She loves everyone and you can’t help but love her. The other night, our family was in the front yard doing some yard work and this little girl and her family stopped by to talk. She grabbed my hand, pulled me aside and gave me a lesson on how to play a flute. She named all the parts of a flute and showed me the notes—it was so endearing!
And now about the soccer camp: My daughter, Nicole, plays for the Red Devils team as part of a competitive soccer club in Utah. Her coach—the founder of the soccer club— likes giving back to the community and helping his players learn to help others. Last year a team member’s mother approached the coach about having a soccer camp for children with autism (she knew a little boy with autism who was really excited about soccer). They decided to try it out and the camp was such a success they did it again this year.
I’m guessing we had 50+ children with autism at the two day camp. Some of the kids were excited about the camp and understood what was going to happen. Others struggled; they were scared to move around and participate. Each kid was paired up with one—sometimes two—players from the Red Devils soccer club and given a T-shirt and their own soccer ball, which they enjoyed personalizing with colored sharpies.
The kids were divided into five groups each with a coach. We were working with all levels of autism and abilities, so activities were very flexible. As much as possible the coach taught each group the game of soccer with Red Devils players to help. They learned how to kick a soccer ball. Some even kicked the ball thru the net. Others simply ran around holding the ball. The players and kids had races and piggy-back rides and all sorts of impromptu fun. When one of the kids did especially well they were given an approved treat or a sticker to recognize their success.
The first day I greeted a little boy who simply didn’t want to be there. He sat down on the ground and wouldn’t even budge. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he was too grumpy to do soccer. With a little coaxing his 16-year-old soccer team partner helped him out to the field. They had a great time and the second day he was all smiles as he came into camp looking for his “helper.”
While I enjoyed watching the kids smile, seeing the parents’ faces gave me the most satisfaction. They were so appreciative and thankful for the soccer club and other volunteers helping their children have a few hours of fun. Their smiles and gratitude made this event!
I was changed by participating. My ability to look into the heart and beyond a person’s challenges has increased. I learned about acceptance from the children as they readily accepted each other and us. I learned that my sacrifice of a couple vacation days wasn’t really a sacrifice after all. My daughter frequently talks about the little boy she was assigned to help at camp and says she can’t wait until we do it again next year.
All of us are extremely busy running businesses. We are often overrun with difficult challenges and I recognize it is sometimes difficult to remove ourselves from work for a vacation, let alone to volunteer. However, I encourage you to give back to your community! Find something that motivates you and get involved.
For example, because of close ties to individuals with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) I’m keenly interested in CF related fundraising activities and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has provided so many wonderful memories for children with CF. I regularly volunteer for those organizations and I also fit in other service activities when I can. It helps to keep my life balanced, and I love it! For me it is what makes life (besides family) worthwhile.
If you are interested in helping others and want a good place to start, here are a few links to some worthwhile foundations:
If you have any suggestions for meaningful volunteering opportunities, please share them with us. Happy volunteering!