Everything we do is made possible because of our amazing volunteers. We will be highlighting many of these great individuals throughout the year in our Volunteer Spotlight. For more information on this program or to suggest a volunteer to spotlight, click here.
Volunteer Spotlight – Leslie Grimes
“My belief is that children are our biggest investment into the future success of the world, all children deserve to be valued equally. Too many children suffer from being excluded for various reasons, but it all comes down to one common denominator…fear. It is the fear of something different from ourselves, fear of not meeting the standards of what others view as acceptable…whether that standard is applied to how we look, how we dress, how we act, or if we a born with a label attached to us because we have a disability. The fear that creates exclusion is born once our children start to recognize those differences in each other, and no one tells them it is okay to be different.”
Leslie started volunteering with the National Inclusion Project from its inception in 2003 because she believed in our mission to bring awareness to the importance of inclusion for children with and without disabilities and to provide opportunities for inclusion through recreational play.
“I know the pain of feeling excluded, because I was bullied as a child, and my own children were bullied. I also understood my friend’s pain, when she told me the hardest part of dealing with her son’s disability was not the actual disability, but seeing the pain he experienced from feeling the loneliness of exclusion.” Leslie explains.
She has had the opportunity to see how inclusion can make a big difference in how a child with a disability feels about themselves, and how other children view them, and she was given that opportunity by volunteering as a shadow at a camp that received a “Let’s All Play” partnership from the National Inclusion Project. The young man she shadowed was Noah and he has autism, but autism is not who Noah is. The most important lesson to learn, is that a text book definition of a disability does not define who a person is, what their limitations will be or should be, or what they will become. “I may have been Noah’s shadow but he was my teacher.” she says. “The most important thing is to see everyone as an individual…we all have our strengths and our weakness and once you start seeing the person, the disability becomes just something to work around. I was able to see Noah’s confidence build, his speech increase and his smiles get bigger. I got to see his typical peers start to see Noah as someone more like them, than different, he went from being the boy that couldn’t talk, to Noah, the boy who could do the expert side of the rock wall, and to just being Noah their friend…the differences were no longer a focal point to who Noah was…the fear was gone.”
She choose to make Wrapping for Inclusion my volunteer project every year…not because it is a great fundraising tool, but because more importantly(at least in Leslie’s eyes) it gives her the opportunity to have a captive audience of volunteers and people getting their gifts wrapped to hear the message she hopes to deliver, about the what the National Inclusion Project is doing to change lives and the importance of inclusion. “Most of my volunteers are high school and college students, and I like that because I think the greatest opportunity for change lies in their hands. If I, along with my volunteers can make one person leaving our wrapping station go home and think about how they can be more inclusive of others, and they in turn plant that same seed in their own children as well as others, it won’t matter to me how much money we raised, it is how many lives we might have changed. I love volunteering my time for the National Inclusion Project, and hope others can fine the time too, but if they can’t I hope they will use their voice to touch a heart, and make a difference.”