I sit here grinning ear to ear as emails pop up on my work computer screen with a multitude of compliments on how gorgeous our grinning four-year old is from people around the state that I have never met before.
I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t sure I could or should step out of my comfort zone and ask the state Commissioner for Vocational Rehabilitation to sponsor a statewide fundraiser for the local Buddy Walk. With all of my experience advocating for people with disabilities, my vulnerability rises to the top when it comes to putting myself out there still. It’s one thing to do my job. It’s one thing to step in and facilitate a situation that I see my children needing help in. It’s one thing to donate my own time, money and energy. It’s something else entirely to put yourself in the position of asking others to help you.
Three years ago a co-worker who had just finished coordinating her own Jeans Day Fundraiser at work stopped by my office to ask if I had considered coordinating one related to Down syndrome. She noted that our commissioner and our senior staff were fond of these fundraisers as it was both a great way to boost morale, to come together as an agency and to contribute to our community around us. Everyone enjoys wearing jeans to work and for a mere $5, a person could make a donation to the sponsored charity and together we would as public servants stand with those in need in our community. I smiled and said I would try to put something together. The next year she stopped by again after another successful fundraiser and mentioned it again. Again I smiled and made a note to draft a letter requesting this. As a family we had participated in our local Buddy Walk before. We had made our own donation, just as we had happily donated when friends and family asked us to with other charities. There is a sense of power and benevolence that comes with being the giver- it makes you feel good about yourself and the larger community you are a part of. There is a sense of vulnerability that comes with asking for help. And as the mother to a child with special needs, there isn’t much time for vulnerability in my day or make-up. Last year I managed to put together a blog post and share it on Facebook. I kept it up in the weeks preceding the Buddy Walk and by the time of the walk last October, our friends and family had come together to donate over $600. As a family we were humbled and awed by their love and support. Because as vulnerable as you feel asking, the warm glow that fills you up when you get the note of a new donation outweighs it. Just before last year’s walk I put together my proposal and sent it off to my supervisors who kindly approved it and passed it on to the Commissioner. A few days later I received a phone call from the administrator for the Commissioner exclaiming over the proposal. She told me she was putting it to the top of her list for the coming year and that it was just what the intent behind the program was- to support our family of employees in their communities. I was thrilled.
As the details got worked out and the date grew closer the email announcement of the fundraiser was sent out statewide. Within the first hour I received the first of several emails:
“You don’t know me, but I just have to reply… Your daughter is beautiful, and I love her happy smile! I am glad to participate in this one!”
I grinned and sent a quick thank you for her kind words. 30 minutes later came the next one:
“Hi Nicole – I work in Human Resources – I walked in the Buddy Walk here in Columbia a couple of years ago in support of Lily who attends the school my kids go to. Love to support this organization!!”
This time a tear welled up. As the fundraising day grew closer I received a couple more and quietly grinned at the framed picture of our Quail on my desk. How far this little girl had carried me from being the new staff member fumbling through my back-breaking stack of training manuals ten years ago to today.
Over the next several weeks the donations arrived and folks stopped by to check in and see how it was going. In total we received $1210 from SCVR. Friends and family also donated an additional $500.
When the donations finally trickled off I put together a thank you email to go back out to the staff. It’s hard to express the deep, heartfelt appreciation that had grown for me over these small acts from individuals that I both knew and didn’t know without it sounding cliché. When the thank you email went out it of course included pictures of our girl- both at the Buddy Walk and my current favorite that to me exudes the light and spirit that makes her up. The email went out at 2:15 pm.
At 2:47 I received:
“Every hair on my body is standing on end as I read your heartfelt comments, Nicole! What a lucky child is darling Abby to have a mother like YOU!”
“These are great pictures that really capture her personality. She is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.”
“She is so obviously devilish. A real cutie pie. “
“She’s so pretty! You and Charlie do good work!”
“Hello. If those pictures in the Jeans Day email you sent were of your daughter, I just wanted to tell you she is absolutely beautiful. The picture of her with hands by her face is precious.”
“Is that your little girl in the pictures? She is like the cutest thing ever! She is so precious!!! ( I have a little girl too, I’m very impartial!) ;)”
“Abby is beautiful. I miss your work newsletter—I was able to watch her grow :)”
“Absolutely adorable—go Abby!”
The simple act of those words- these people having taken the time to send encouragement, love and kindness to someone they don’t know after having given already of themselves.. .I was floored. It’s not professional to tear up at work. That said, the human kindness in a place of business letting you know that they see you and your family in a time of need- is priceless. Sometimes you have to push past your comfort zone to find an even softer place to land.
I know I did.
I am so very grateful to all those out there that took the time to stop, read about and look at the face of a child, our child, who represents both herself and the larger community.
Each person who sent in $5- together it added up to well over $1000 worth of support that will go to further advocate and encourage awareness on behalf of those with Down syndrome and their families. Not only was money contributed by these efforts but a sense of community grew out of it. As the mother of a spunky four-year old who has Down syndrome I am heartened by all of the generosity, support and kind words of all of you. It’s this awareness, support and inclusion that is changing the world we live in ensuring that individuals like the Quail have every opportunity. The fact that this extends beyond her is a wonderfully synergistic and reciprical opportunity that benefits both those who gave and those who receive. It shows our community of people who my work serves on a daily basis the heart of the workers processing their claims as well as putting an actual person to the claims that pass over their desks.
From the bottom of our hearts to the top of yours. Truly, we are humbled. Thank you.
To those that still wish to donate, Abby’s Buddy Page will be staying up year round: