Due Date: 5/28/14
It Makes Difference
Volunteering allows you to give and receive. I spent many years as a single father and it was that life that I think sometimes brought me into the volunteer world. As a single father, in the Navy, there was never enough money to do a lot with my son. One day I saw an opportunity to volunteer at an event that allowed me to bring my son, have lunch and get a t-shirt. I thought this was a wonderful thing. It would give me time with my son, allow us to help others and there were a lot of little perks that we could enjoy. While it may not have been the best reason to volunteer, it was reason enough for us to start. My real volunteering began, with a boy named Robert, some years later.
I volunteered to assist the Sunshine Foundation and escort children with life-threatening conditions around Disney. On the day of the event, I met the bus just outside of Disney World and greeted the Director of the Foundation. Already knowing me, she asked for a favor. I agreed, of course, and then asked what it would be. She wanted me to take “a special young man” around the park and she then explained his backstory.
Robert was seven and sleeping in his house when his Father decided to burn it down for insurances purposes. Somehow he survived, but suffered greatly. Robert was burned severely, had no fingers, eyelids, toes, or ears and had acute scars over most of his body. Because I was coordinating the event, I was able to bring my wife and son. Although we felt prepared, we were still shocked when we met Robert. He looked like a failed experiment of some mad scientist. I immediately felt hate for a man I had never met. I moved past my thoughts and we spent the next few minutes introducing ourselves.
We left the busses and entered gates of Disney like a bunch of middle schoolers leaving on the last day of school. It was energizing for everyone and we were hitting the rides before we knew it. Robert and my son had the time of their lives, simply being kids. One of the rides had Pinocchio on it and Robert scrutinized the character, then turned to me, and said “Who’s that?” In a joking way, I answered “That’s Pinocchio, where the heck are you from?” Without missing a beat, he answered “Philadelphia.” He began to question me about Pinocchio and, as we were trying to keep things moving, I gave him a Readers Digest condensed version of the Disney tale – he was a wooden boy, he was naughty, followed some bad people and his nose grew when he lied. Finally, he learned his lesson, started doing some good things and became a real boy. That seemed to appease him and we moved onto the next ride. The rest of the day Robert would toss out miscellaneous questions about Pinocchio.
By the end of the day, Robert’s condition was taking its toll and he was wiped. He began the day walking, as best he could, but finally succumbed to his pain and relented to a wheelchair. We decided to stop at one of the many gift stores and Robert had me push him right to a pile of Pinocchio dolls on display. We knew right away it was something he wanted and purchased one for him. Seemed like a very small gesture to put a smile on his face. And now it was time to leave.
We wheeled Robert to the bus and even though he was completely drained, and very sore, he made a point to stand up and to say his goodbyes. He and my son talked and they were going to…