A Lesson in Perspective:

Alyssa Devine

Perspective. If nothing else, alternative break trips through the Max Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) give a lot of perspective about how good we have it up on the Hill. We all know that we live in a Colgate bubble, but sometimes it takes spending some time in the real world, among those less fortunate, to remember how truly lucky we are. Last week over spring break five students and I volunteered at Pathfinder Village, a residential-educational community for people with Down’s syndrome in Cooperstown, N.Y.. The residents live in a place that is specialized for their needs and the staff and volunteers do their best to help them along the way. I had never worked with anyone with Down’s syndrome before, so the experience was shocking to me at first. As the result of an extra chromosome in their genome, Down’s syndrome patients suffer neurological and muscular disabilities to varying degrees. This meant that sometimes even the simplest task, such as putting glue down on an art project before putting down the glitter, could be difficult for the residents to understand.

But I quickly realized that I needn’t feel sorry for them. In fact, it would have been condescending to do so. These people may have disabilities, but that does not mean that they are not happy with their lives. Many of the residents hold jobs in town and are extremely proud of what they do. Some of them even work at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown’s main attraction. Outside of work, Pathfinder Village provides educational and fun things for the residents to do. Some of them receive supplementary education at the nearby school. For example, one day I chaperoned a girl named Gen, took her to PE class and helped her learn to write her name. When the residents have time to relax, all of them are really passionate about their unique, individual hobbies. One man is really into the movie “Top Gun” and always listens to its theme song, “Danger Zone.” Another resident is a star athlete on their basketball team, but also loves his collection of “Twilight” DVDs. I spent an entire afternoon watching “Law and Order: SVU” with a resident named Chelsea. Lastly, the entire community loves listening to disco music and show tunes like “Grease.” As a reward for good behavior the staff plays the music loudly and lets the residents dance around and have fun. It’s obvious that everyone has such a good time there!

Another very humbling experience was the manual labor we did for the village. We woke up bright and early every day, cleaned chicken coops and accomplished whatever else they set before us. We even built and put finish on a bench for the residents. It may have been hard work, but it was all worthwhile, because we know just how much everyone who lives there appreciates what we do. But mostly, simply to know that we are parts of the lives of these wonderful people was good enough. Some say that people with Down’s syndrome are sad and to be pitied, but I think that’s insensitive to think. Instead of feeling sorry for Down’s syndrome patients, we should realize that their lives can be every bit as satisfying as ours, even if they live them slightly differently. It is not our place to pity them, but instead it is our responsibility to make sure that they are taken care of and made as happy as possible. Now, I can only thank the COVE and Pathfinder Village for allowing me the opportunity not only to learn more about myself, but also to help those who need it most.

Contact Alyssa Devine at [email protected]