I’ve always loved acts of service. I guess you’d say it’s my love language. I’m a textbook people pleaser after all, so to throw myself into work where I feel like I’m helping someone really fills my cup. My younger days were full of mission trips and service projects that took me out of my comfort zone. As an adult though, my service has become watered down. I’m part of a mother-daughter service organization that requires a certain number of philanthropy hours each year, so I log a lot of volunteer hours, but if I’m being honest, I often find myself only signing up for opportunities that keep me safely in my comfort zone. You know, the check-the-box opportunities where I can feel good about myself for “making a difference” without interacting with anyone to actually make a difference. And what’s worse is that I often go into these volunteer shifts with the attitude that I’m there to do these groups a favor. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the most important part of acts of service: being selfless.

At INM, giving back to our community isn’t just a box to check off – it’s a part of our culture. Recently, we participated in a day of service as part of our company’s initiative to make a positive impact in our local community. We spent the afternoon at My Possibilities (MP), a for-cause organization that provides continuing education, vocational training and job placement for adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). We were there to spend the afternoon with the HIPsters (Hugely Important People, also known as the adults in the MP program) as they participated in their classroom learning and other activities. While I was looking forward to our time there, I was also nervous as this was certainly pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. Turns out that was just what I needed.

Photo courtesy of My Possibilities.

I’m really not sure how to put the experience into words (It was that special) but I am going to try. My group was assigned to work with the HIPsters as they sorted through costumes and props from the Seussical musical production the center had put on the weekend prior. After some quick introductions we let them put us to work where needed. And as we worked, we chatted with the HIPsters, listened as they talked about the musical, as they joked with one another and as they shared themselves with us. Right away I was struck by the joy in which the HIPSters put into their work. It was menial tasks – sorting costumes into dry clean only or laundered piles, sweeping up loose feathers that had fallen from the costumes, sorting hats and removing items off hangers – but they tackled the job as if the work was keeping the earth in rotation. It was so refreshing to watch, and I vowed to work to find that kind of joy in my daily work as well. I loved watching the non-verbal and verbal HIPsters communicate with each other in their own ways and watching the mobile and immobile find a way to work together to get the tasks done. But most of all I loved watching how these HIPsters treated one another. Despite the range of IDD severity among them, it was evident that everyone belonged, everyone had a contribution to make, and they were thriving in this environment that gives them an opportunity at independence. They were a family and I found myself wanting to know each and every one of their stories.

One of the more vocal HIPsters was a woman who had the most beautiful smile and a love for horses. (The ringtone on her phone was even horses neighing!) I loved hearing her talk about her boyfriend (who also happened to be a HIPster there) and how tired she was because she stayed up too late on facetime with him. She shared pictures with us from the day he presented her a promise ring and spoke about the upcoming plans they had to celebrate her birthday and she laughed at how he liked to tease her that he could not remember her birthday due to his traumatic brain injury. (He remembered of course!) Her story was so heart-warming, and I found myself thinking about her over the next few days and even praying for her and her boyfriend and being thankful for a place like MP that provides an environment where things are normal for these HIPsters and where young love can grow among individuals who understand each other’s unique challenges. I don’t know what I was expecting honestly, but I found that these Hipsters and I had much more in common that I thought. We are all simply humans with a dream of independence and the ability to take advantage of all life has to offer. The paths may look different to get there, but the dream is the same.

When we started, I couldn’t possibly imagine what we would do for the hour and a half we were in the classroom to fill the time, but as our time came to an end and the volunteer coordinator came to get us, I found myself sad that the time was over already. I wanted to stick around and hear more from these individuals who were so genuine in their feelings and interactions, even with people they had just met. I wanted to continue to witness the joy they found in whatever it was they were doing. It was the most beautiful thing to experience in a world so often full of ugliness.

As we debriefed as a team with the volunteer coordinator, I remarked how I was struck by the joy that emanated from the HIPsters and he commented that there was magic in those walls. I couldn’t agree more. I walked out of MP with a full heart and a quest to find (and spread) joy on a daily basis. As I drove home, I found myself unable to stop smiling. I went into MP in order to try to make a difference, but I am the one who left changed.

Discover ways to make every day count for the hugely important people at My Possibilities by visiting mypossibilities.org and learning more!