When I retired I decided ice fishing probably was not going to be my thing - actually, sitting in the middle of a frozen lake in January with a fishing rod down a hole in the ice was the least likely thing you would find me doing.
On the other hand, I am busier no than when I was working, and a majority of the interests and activities I am involved in concern voluntary organizations that help either directly or indirectly in our own community. One of the organizations I volunteer with is JARC, a Farmington Hills based organization that provides a variety of services to special needs adults and children ranging from training to group homes and virtually every level in between.
The organization is currently running 21 group homes, as well as supervising independent living situations and innumerable special projects for adults and kids. JARC doest not discriminate because of race, religion or ethnicity in its clients. All JARC adult clients are expected to have jobs if they are able, and Jewish Vocational Services helps in the training and placement of clients. A good number of them are employed to care for the common areas of the Hartman and Tyner Hunters Ridge Apartments in Farmington Hills and have been for close to fifteen years. Others have worked in supermarkets and restaurants in the area, providing services to the stores and customers.
Keeping all of this on track and coordinated is obviously a monumental task for staff members and volunteers they can call on. Under the leadership of Rick Lowenstein, programs have grown and a plan to raise funds to guarantee the the long term continuation of JARC has been developed and is being implemented. But this is not about fund raising. It is about the clients in the program and what they have given back to me while I was supposed to be assisting them.
To be sure, as a volunteer you hope to gain some degree of satisfaction but working with the men at one of the group homes for over eight years has taught me a lot about special needs people and how caring they are to people they feel care about them. First of all, to dispel a cruel myth, many of the guys I am involved with are really extremely intelligent and some can do things that would seem mind boggling.
One example, a man that worked at Hunters Ridge a few years ago could, if you gave him your date of birth, tell you the day of the week you were born on - instantly. While granted not a vitally necessary skill, it does show the mathematical intellect this individual had in spite of some other issues that he also had to contend with. Another individual had a tendency to wander off (and I'll get to his story shortly) but it was because of an intense need to get to know what was going on around him and how and to investigate things. So let's forget the myth that special needs people are necessarily lacking in some intelligence, many, many are quite the opposite.
Now, back to my friend, several years ago, we were taking the a group to a Tigers game thanks to the generosity and support of Jim Grey of Farmington Hills and the Temple Israel Brotherhood. It is now an annual affair with probably well over 100 participants, by the way. Before the game, we took our group out to lunch at Leo's at Comerica Park. But we were concerned about this one individual wandering off in a large crowd, so one of the volunteers told him he had a job to do - to watch me so I didn't wander off. He stuck to me like glue that day and didn't wander off or let me.
Over the years, we have developed a friendship, and they say when I walk into a room and he sees me, his smile becomes enormous. And by the way, he still takes his job of watching me very seriously, to the degree that two years ago when the guys went out for dinner and I wasn't there, he became concerned and had one of the volunteers call me. I was in Chicago at a genealogy conference, and when I answered the phone, he asked who was keeping an eye on me. I said "Marc", who was sharing a room with me, and he was satisfied 'til he asked where Marc was, and I had to admit he was upstairs taking a nap. This did not please him, since how could Marc be watching me if he was upstairs taking a nap!
If you have ever been at the Palace for a Pistons game, you know that the upper stands are quite steep. We took the JARC group to a recent game (Pistons lost by one point, I am afraid), and there was a staff member and volunteer in front of them. I was at the rear to make sure they all got seated in the right seats. They all did, but I had to squeeze by them to get to my seat, and I have a serious balance issue with a steep downward slant of the stands and nothing to hold onto while getting to my seat. Each of the "special needs" people, who I was there to assist, took my arm and made sure I was steady and safe getting to my seat.
It is extremely difficult to find the right words to express the feelings I had as these guys showed their caring for me, when I was supposed to be the one caring about them. It made it all worthwhile - yes, even the hours of stuffing envelopes in the JARC office. Someone did comment that Ed and I are the only two that could have so much fun doing such boring but necessary work (as stuffing envelopes for mailings). Maybe it's because we know that in the end, it helps make the whole program move forward and serve the community and all of Metro Detroit.