You know when you have those days of work where you're struck by one of those thoughts: “YES. That's why I am doing this”?
It might be a quiet whisper or it might be a thunderbolt – but whatever it is, it validates all of the stress and frustrations of the job.
In the middle of preparations for , which is a little more than three weeks away, I got that thunderbolt feeling last week. Actually, I got that feeling three times over.
It happened as I was talking to three parents – all of them moms – of children with disabilities who receive services at .
These are parents who have stresses and concerns that many of us can scarcely imagine.
Some of their children have cognitive disabilities, some of them spent the first years of their lives afraid of tactile sensations like a fuzzy stuffed animal, and yet another must wear a monitoring device on her ankle because she is so skilled at slipping out of even the most skilled adult's care and wandering away by herself.
Yet these moms' voices fill with this incredible gratitude and giddiness over the feeling of seeing their children up on stage for the first time, applauded for just being amazing little human beings. They well with emotion over meeting other parents with the same special concerns as them, and the release that comes from talking to another parent who finds it equally remarkable and laudatory that your child can hold her own fork, or that she played with another child that day.
In coordinating public relations and news for ESP, I talk to these parents out of a need to get anecdotes and quotes for press releases, and to find parents who are willing to talk to reporters and share their stories.
But, I invariably end up spending far longer talking to these parents than is necessary for me to write a three-page press release. (If I could write a book-length press release about them, I would. But, I don't think our friends in the local media would appreciate a 280-page press release.) Their stories inspire me, amaze me, and make me so grateful to be working for an organization that has such a clear impact on the lives of kids.
For many of these children, ESP is by no means the only special assistance they are receiving. Having some serious mental and physical disabilities, many of them are exposed to physical, speech and occupational therapy, special instruction at school, or medication. But for every parent I talk to, they can draw a clear, distinct line to at least one way in which their child has been changed, affected, or assisted by ESP.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard the word “blossomed.” It's a favorite verb for many parents. These children have always been beautiful – have always been precious to their parents. They are loved in their own special way, and will be loved no matter what.
But for these parents, ESP has been a gift that has unlocked a potential they had never seen their special children tap into.
One mom told me she didn't feel like she'd really “met” her daughter until her little girl, who has cerebral palsy, went to ESP summer camp for the first time.
See, a lot of ESP kids have limited verbal skills. It leaves parents wondering what goes on in their special kid's brain.
For this mom, ESP helped open her little girl up, reducing her fear of social situations, breaking down her worry at touching things like those fuzzy stuffed animals, and allowing her to interact with other kids. After seven years of knowing her daughter, this mom felt like she finally, truly got to know her.
Writing about these parents suddenly makes words seem inadequate. Writing about their experiences can't truly do justice to the emotion in their voices when they discuss their kids.
If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to talk to a parent about it. Their enthusiasm for ESP and the work our dedicated staff members and volunteers do with kids is infectious.
And, if you want to catch this feeling yourself, you can see 50 of ESP's kids in action February 4 at the Fifth Annual Big Hearts Pageant. The show starts 7 p.m., at the in downtown Athens. , and how over-the-moon thrilled their parents are to see them celebrated for the things they can do.