The Sarah Effect
Rachel Hutchings, Division 3, College freshman #ws16e-s3d3

Watching her cabin mate bleat out the lyric to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”, twenty six year old Sarah Meyers turned to me with a huge ecstatic smile on her face. Talking faster than I had ever seen her, Sarah’s passion for music became crystal clear as she sung to the karaoke machine set up by the small makeshift stage. After about ten minutes of smiles and carefree song, I turned to her and asked, “Sarah, do you think you want to go up and sing? It would be really funny!” Throughout the next forty five minutes of gentle encouragement and group persuasion, the twenty six year old was finally convinced to mount the steps of the stage. After picking out her song, Sarah pivoted to her eager audience with a hesitant smile and the black microphone clutched tightly in both hands. As the opening bars of “Who Let The Dogs Out” by Baha Men poured out of the speaker, however, her nervousness and thus my hidden worry slowly drained away. With hair flips and wide eyed enthusiasm Sarah rocked that song, even having her others cabin mates sing the chorus back to her just like a true rock star. Witnessing this, I could not help but feel proud and delighted at Sarah’s joy as I once again observed her overcoming her disability and my previous perceptive of the disabled.

For me, this scene was one of the many meaningful experiences I have had as I volunteer at a summer camp called Camp Barnabas in hills of southern Missouri last summer. Focused on aiding disabled people of all ages and handicaps, this program allows volunteers to come for week at a time and partner with one of their disabled campers. Together for twenty three hours a day, volunteers or CIAs assist their campers with anything they need including going to the bathroom, showering, eating, and walking. In cabins of ten partners with two staff members, the weeks are packed with daily cabin activities, camp wide events, and mealtimes as the camp and the volunteers’ major goal is to get their campers to have fun while still staying safe. Last summer I volunteered there and meet Sarah who ended up turning my perspective on disabled people turned on its head.

As part of her disability, Sarah experiences violent seizures that could come on at any time and that ranged in severity. Her main triggers for these seizures are elevated heart rate coming from moving too fast, overheating, sweating, or anything else that got her heart rate up. Also adding to her struggle was that though twenty six, she had the mental ability of seven year old. However in spite of the odds stacked against her I watched Sarah overcome them and enjoy countless things I had forgotten to be grateful for.

Prior to going to camp, I now realize that, I had similar prejudice beliefs about disabled people as many others have. Core to those was that these people were largely a hindrance to their family and friends, they could not completely grasp anything, and that they are people to feel somewhat sorry for. However by the time I had completed my week in this program that perspective and my life that followed was changed as I realized that these people bring a love for life and others humans unlike any I have ever seen.

From Sarah and the other campers in my cabin, I have learned an educated and truthful outlook on disabilities that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Sarah, Hannah, Jordan, and others showed me just how wrong my idea of disabled people was as they accomplished activities that I would not have been able to do in their position and showed me a love for life that I did not know was possible. One of these instances was when various campers would go up to sing (they love to sing) in front of the whole camp at each mealtime without a care in the world. Despite not having a disability, I know that unless forced, I would have had an extremely difficult time of accomplish that.

As for their passion and love for the world and others around them, Sarah showed this noble trait to me each and every day I was with her. Overcoming her fear and embarrassment of her seizures, Sarah did not let the possibility that she could die from her disability faze her as she drew countless pictures for her family and new friends as she (to borrow her signature phrase) ‘chit chatted’ with everyone around her. Her passion and will to never give in humbled me while doing a great deal to make me realize that these people are, in many ways, stronger than I am.

Due to this change of perspective that this program has caused in myself, I have gone on to continue to volunteer at Camp Barnabas and join other programs that help the disabled like Special Olympics and Polar Plunge. Camp Barnabas and these organizations allow me to have pride in my volunteering as I know that not only am I helping those with disabilities like Sarah, I am also overcoming prejudices that will make me a better person. Overall by participating in this camp, helping the disabled, and overcoming prejudice, I strongly believe that I am making the world a better place.
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