It is common enough to hear people talk about giving back when they have a bit of extra time. Volunteering is a way for people to become involved in their communities, meet people, and help those who could use a hand one way or another.
As the mom of a child with special needs, I always admire the people who work and volunteer with the organizations that support activities for Kevin, both fun and therapeutic. Kevin would not participate in many of his activities without the generosity of so many good people who are there to share an activity that they love with Kevin and his buddies. It often occurs to me how much smaller Kevin’s world would be if we had not met such generous people along the way.
Spending time watching Kevin and his friends participate in one activity or another, you get to know the look on people’s faces, that shine in someone’s eyes, a bursting cheek-to-cheek smile, or an excited-sounding voice when a volunteer realizes how an experience is meaningful to them as well as to the person and/or the family they are supporting. I call it “getting back.”
Some organizations and the people who run them are so enthused by the work they do and the people they inspire, you can tell that this giving/getting back system is part of what motivates them.
I felt this enthusiasm when I encountered New York’s Achilles International back in the early fall. Established in New York by Dick Traum, this organization pairs running partners with people with special needs, from children to adults with physical and/or developmental challenges. A non-profit organization, this club trains runners, cyclers and volunteers alike. People come together for the pursuit, and soon enough make new friends, increase their confidence and find their athletic selves.
A legend himself, Dick Traum was the first person to run the New York Marathon with a prosthetic leg in 1976. In 1983, Dick created the Achilles Track Club, as a way to share his experiences with other people with physical and developmental challenges. A non-profit organization, today the club is called Achilles International, and it boasts more than 10,000 members in 70 different countries.
Kevin and I went to our first Achilles race in September. Thomas, Kevin’s friend, was running the 5th Avenue mile, as part of the Achilles Kids club. Thomas was delighted that Kevin came to see him run and he was waving and smiling as he passed us by. Thomas’ running partner had a similar ear-to-ear smile, showing her pride in helping Thomas achieve his goal.
Another Saturday morning, Vikas, Kevin and I went to Central Park Achilles to see the club run in action. That day, I met Matt. Matt was a volunteer that learned about Achilles Kids through New York Cares, an organization that pairs volunteers with community organizations in New York City. Once he started running with Achilles Kids, Matt caught on early to the getting back sense of volunteering. Talking about the runs, Matt explained how the feeling of running with his Saturday morning friends was “contagious,” and the perfect way start to any weekend.
We also met Megan, the coordinator for Achilles Kids. She organized the volunteers and matched them with the runners. Seeing Megan in action from the beginning of the run to the end, it was clear that her enthusiasm and will alone could pull kids across the finish line of the Central Park reservoir. Vikas and I, and I think Kevin, all left the park that morning feeling like we too could become runners as the people around us were celebrating their abilities and accomplishments. We agreed with Matt. It was the perfect feel-good way to begin the weekend. Thanks Achilles!