The latest from Community Service Arizona.
The Westcoast Blogger
Dear Parents of our AMAZING Arizona heroes,
It is only our 3rd day together and I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible family this has become. Every day both myself and Cleo, the staff on this trip, are completely blown away by the courage, heart and compassion of your children and I hope to be able to describe some of it to you, though there is no way to truly understand how much of an impact they are having without seeing it in person.
Our adventure began at the airport where our travelers met up and quickly set about meeting each other. After the journey down to Arizona everyone was excited to be able to change and settle in to our hotel. It was especially exciting as all our trip members rooms are 2 floor suites!
Day 2, our first full day together, saw us introduced to Hacienda Healthcare, our main partner, and our home for our first 3 days of service. Tara, the volunteer coordinator, explained to us that Hacienda is Arizona’s largest provider of specialized care for mentally and physically challenged children and adults. They offer nursing and 24 hour medical care for patients who are unable to care for themselves and strive to improve the quality of living and maximize potential of every patient they care for. Tara explained that most of the patients do not have families, and us coming to spend time with them was so important. Many of them never get any visitors or attention apart from the staff of the hospital (who, as we have seen firsthand, are all incredible people).
Without hesitation, every single trip member jumped right into the task of grabbing some books and introducing themselves. Many of them had previously had service experience, to the surprise and delight of Cleo and myself, which helped foster the level of comfort amongst the group.
Even though many patients are unable to speak and can only communicate in subtle ways, your children used books and started reading stories and also took crayons and markers and started drawing pictures, getting as much help as possible from the patients. We all shared stories about our own lives at home and our own personal experiences with the patients. I can honestly say that every patient in the room was so happy for our time and effort!
Weslee spent time with Alfred, a patient with what seemed like very little ability to communicate. That was not the case though with Weslee. Alfred’s eyes shone and he smiled and became very noisy every time Weslee simply said his name. To see this experience in front of all our eyes was inspiring!
Corey spent 45 minutes with a 6 year old named Alex whose life has been full of tragedy. Ever-thoughtful and considerate Corey made sure that every book he chose was a happy book and had no pictures or element that could in any way be scary for Alex.
Many of us spent time with one of the most capable patients in the hospital, a man named Robin, who can speak, and, with a few more weeks of therapy, will be able to return to his family in the ‘real’ world. Marc and Drew played catch with him and Marc taught him a handshake that was just for the two of them and now the ritual is performed every time they see each other.
Eric is a patient who, though wheelchair bound (as almost all of patients are) is very active with his hands and feet. With music playing in the background, Rachel helped Eric get out his energy and express himself through movements that we all believe was dancing.
Stella began the day unsure of how to react and a little hesitant but thanks to incredible support from the staff and Weslee and Nicola, within 2 minutes of walking into the room, was completely committed to reading and entertaining Susan.
Michael was comfortable from the start, as if he had been working with this population his whole life. He read book after book and colored drawing after drawing with patients Alex, Jennifer and Danny.
Matthew is a patient who took to Drew instantaneously. He was thrilled that Drew spoke to him, hung out with him and spent time telling him stories. Though most of the day we were told that Matthew is generally asleep, around Drew, Matthew is always wide awake. The first time they were together Matthew stayed awake for a full 45 minutes. We could tell how much of an impact Drew had, as the minute Matthew got up, he was ‘out cold’.
India read to so many students and talked for a long time with Selina, an extremely active smiley and happy patient.
Nicola and Taylor are naturals. For 90 straight minutes Nicola sang out loud to all the patients. She and Taylor met everyone, looked them in the eyes and treated each one of them as if they were their own siblings.
Believe it or not, these were only a portion of our morning experiences. After lunch we spent some quiet time with all the patients and began the planning for a show we were going to put on for everyone on the third day.
When we were done our first day we ventured up to South Mountain Park, a beautiful natural preserve overlooking the massive valley that is the city of Phoenix. The lookout at the top of the peak was an elevation of 2500 feet and offered us spectacular views and a great perspective of our ‘home’ for the week. Sitting in a shaded shelter we reflected on the amazing and deep experience we all just had. It was truly inspiring to hear how much our trip members were affected by what they just did and how positive they were about each other’s efforts.
Day 2 at the hospital (day 3 of trip/Friday), we began our day with a wicked karaoke session. We started out by singing songs altogether like ‘We Are Family’ and ‘I’m a Believer’. Once we all got comfortable, smaller groups of us took the lead entertaining everyone.
There was an amazing rendition of ‘Summer Lovin’’ by Nicola, Weslee, Stella and Taylor, a brave undertaking of ‘Mr. Brightside’ by the boys on the trip including me, as well as an incredible version of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘The Breakaway’ by Drew, Michael and India, which stole the show. From ‘I want to hold your hand’ by the Beatles to Elvis and Neil Diamond, we were joined by a few of the patients and felt amazing as we were cheered on by a packed house of over 40 patients and caregivers for well over an hour. We ended the jam session with a heartfelt group rendition of ‘Lean on me’.
In the afternoon we spent some quiet time reading and drawing with the patients with Drew, Marc, Weslee and Nicola engaged in a game of catch and paper airplanes with Robin. Taylor and Stella learned the tricks from Weslee that make Alfred smile, and Rachel spent some time comforting Alex.
After that we took all the drawings we made with the patients, as well as some props the hospital purchased, and went about decorating the patients’ lunch room for their August theme – “Back to School”. India got it all started so by the time we got there, the once drab and dreary place had been brought to life with colors and animation. The hospital is thrilled as the room truly looks amazing (we will try to get up some pictures if possible to show you).
After getting back ‘home’ the whole group enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather by jumping in the pool to cool off. For some strange reason Marc, Drew, Michael and Corey delved into the hot tub as well but they did say it made the pool even colder!!
That evening we ventured to the beautiful suburb of Scottsdale for a trip acclaimed dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Dinner was rated fantastic by all and some even decided to go crazy and try to fit in some delicious desserts despite all of our stomachs being full to the brim.
We returned to the hotel to try to polish up the play for tomorrow and again eagerly went to bed. Everyone slept amazingly… content!
Hope all is well at home and we will write again with more stories soon.