Speaking out for People with
 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

"I Found You!"

By Emily McDonough


About the Author: Ms. McDonough is a volunteer at Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. She wrote about her experience as a Fernald volunteer in college application essay.

Hide-and-seek is a game in which the searcher’s goal is to find another individual hidden in an unknown location. This can be seen as a simple, but yet still challenging task. However, one should ask herself: “How much more challenging would the game be without knowing who or what one is seeking?” This is another version of ‘the game’— ‘the game’ of searching for one’s future calling. From my personal experience, I was not aware that my calling was hidden in my community service.

My service of volunteering at the Fernald Center in Waltham, Massachusetts, the oldest residential facility for the mentally retarded in the country, is what I consider to be the location which my calling chose as a ‘hiding spot’. After discovering this spot, the doors to my future opened.

Every Sunday morning at 9:00AM, I take part in volunteer work at the Fernald Center. This center is home to many mentally challenged residents, and it serves as a place for family and friendships. My service consists of transporting the residents that are unable to walk to and from a Chapel Mass. Instead of being a chore that I must ‘suffer’ through so early in the morning, I see this service as being a definite life-changing experience in which I am incredibly lucky to participate. I do not simply push residents in their wheelchairs, I build strong relationships with each and every one of them.

During my times of service, I have come to know many of the residents at the Fernald Center quite well. One of the women that I normally escorted to Chapel was a woman in her nineties. Her name was Anna. She always had a smile on her face and her innocence beamed so brightly when she was present. Whenever I would say “Hi” to Anna, she would reply with a “Hi, friend!”, and she would then grab my arm and tell me that she loved me. Anna was a very outgoing person who enjoyed the presence of others. She was later transferred to a group home and she recently passed away. Knowing that she has been taken from her home against her will made me realize how these residents had no voice at all. I now know that I needed to become a voice for them in order to protect their innocence.

Another resident whom I have been given the chance to know is a 93 year old man named Teddy. Teddy, just like Anna was, always seems to be in such a happy mood. When I first saw Teddy shaking and clapping his hands to the beat of the songs being played during Mass, I realized how important this Mass was to him, and how much he must have looked forward to taking part in the celebration every week. Also, I have come to know that Teddy has a strong passion for baseball cards. Every week I bring in a few cards for him, causing him to shake in excitement and reach out his arms to embrace me. Sometimes he will even swing an imaginary bat while seated in his wheelchair as a hint that he is waiting for his cards. Such a simple thing can be such a valuable part of another person’s life. By getting to know Teddy, I have come to realize how tragic it would be for him, as well as all of the other residents, if their Mass and the social contact surrounding it was cut from their lives. Unfortunately, this sad thought may become a reality as the state makes its final decision as to whether or not the Fernald Center will be shut down. If this facility is taken away from the residents, they will not be the only ones affected, for I believe that my heart would break. Teddy and Anna have given me the love and passion that I need in order to work for the mentally disabled. Knowing that these residents may be taken from their home at any moment has pushed me even further into pursuing this calling.

Due to this experience, I believe that I can make known the needs of these mentally disabled individuals. I want to be a voice for these people and work my hardest to protect their pure innocence. I believe that a benefit of my higher education will be to enhance my ability to assist others like Anna and Teddy. I want to work hard in order to create future opportunities that can serve as ways for me to follow my passion. Whether it is through a career in occupational therapy, art therapy, counseling, or psychology, I believe that I can reach my goal. Anna and Teddy are two individuals that have assisted me in my search for my once hidden future. My ‘game’ of hide-and-seek has come to an end, and I can now say to my future: “I found you!”