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My Very Special DIAD at Twin Palms

Being a provisional member, I'm still finding my way around the JLBR calendar. I was checking my calendar before going to bed and noticed that no one had signed up for the next day's DIAD at Twin Palms Center for the Disabled in Boca Raton. Because DIAD’s fill up quickly, I was surprised it was still open. I made a quick check on my office calendar and saw that I could pull off a long lunch, so without overthinking, I signed up.


I really had no idea what I had even signed up for and had no idea what to expect. I woke up the next morning and realized I was nervous. My nervousness grew as the morning went on, which surprised me - I love new experiences, but I realized this was a bit outside my comfort zone. Part of me was very excited about just putting myself out there, and then of course, I was aware that part of me was resisting. I showed up, nervous and excited, and had plenty of expectations.


Expectations that the day would be spelled out for me. That someone would tell me exactly what was expected of me and I would follow instructions. But I walked into the center virtually unnoticed. Everyone was very busy and I immediately felt very out of place. Some of the people were crowded around a table painting ceramics. I was trying to make sense of it all. They were deep in their projects and I couldn’t tell who worked there and who were students. Not going to lie, it was awkward for a whole long minute. But the awkwardness was all on my part. Because soon after I walked in, Anthony came up and gave me a hug. He wasn’t awkward at all! I had to adjust to a new reality.


Everyone in the room was full of love. I had to quickly let my expectations go, and just let the day unfold. Not only did I end up getting many hugs throughout the day, my day was full of hand holding, coloring, games, and talking. I learned a lot about my new friends. I learned that although he didn’t say a word to me, Drew smiled all day and held a job on Saturdays rolling napkins for a local restaurant, and proudly wore a baseball cap with all the waitress’s signatures. I learned that Miriam loves the movie "How to train your Dragon" and told me all about Astrid's relationship with Hiccup. (Side note, I've seen the movie numerous times and hadn't even paid attention to the character's names, leading me to realize I should pay more attention when I watch movies.) We played the Wii dragon video game and we both laughed as she beat me effortlessly. One of the ladies was sad and was telling me she wanted to go home. She ended up just sitting next to me for a while and we compared nail polish and I saw her smile.


Eva liked to play tricks and hid one of the worker’s phone from her when she left the table and laughed and laughed while she urged me to keep the secret. They hugged each other throughout the day and looked out for each other. Eva asked Anthony if he wanted to sit down and she encouraged him to count numbers in a workbook. She smiled the entire time. It was two short hours. I can’t even express what my takeaway was after two short hours. After the shift was over, I spoke to Chris, the director, for about a half hour and he told me more about the facility and about some of their struggles. How these people live in the shadows. How they “age out” of programs that can help them.


It was apparent to me that this man has a huge heart and could really use more help with this program. I could see his passion as he spoke and I empathized with what seems to be an uphill battle. The ladies who work there are all equally as passionate and know everyone’s name and each of their personalities. “Yes, she likes to hold hands. She likes to use the stickers. He likes to put his hand on his throat and feel the vibration of his voice. She likes to put on her headphones and listen to classical music.”


To say it was an eye opening experience is an understatement. As we spoke, I shared with them that I have 5 boys and 3 dogs and a cat. They asked me more about it, so I showed them a short video of pictures of my kids. They were genuinely interested and watched my phone enthusiastically. As the day ended and they went home with their parents, grandparents, and caregivers, I saw how many people care for these students and how loved they are. I have an aunt with a special needs daughter and I’ve always respected the energy she’s given to caregiving for her over the years. In her situation, it’s like caring for an infant that never ages - and she does it with joy and grace.


I realized today that it isn’t a sacrifice to care for these people, it is a blessing. I understand my aunt just a little bit more today. I saw the joy and love that fills the hearts of these very special people and realized they are truly a gift to all those around them. I can’t wait to sign up to go on the next open DIAD Bowling Day with this crew!


Heather Ronan

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