Many times we are quick to judge people; we assume that they do not have a desire to help others or that they are not capable of contributing to society in a meaningful way. Sometimes we make these judgments about people based on their appearance, social standing, financial means, or intellectual abilities. How frequently we rush to judgment, and how often we are wrong. We are fortunate that there are those around to remind us that sometimes those from whom we expect the least can offer the most.
The Decatur High School Developmental Students are a group of young people who do just that. These students, lead by their teacher Karen Alexander, capture the essence of volunteerism by giving what they can and making their community a better place to live in doing so. Decatur High’s Developmental Class is composed of approximately ten students, all of whom are developmentally disabled. About four and a half years ago the class was looking for a service project, and fortunately for Hospice they happened to ask if they could help their organization in any way.
Hospice of the Valley provides end-of-life care as well as grief and bereavement services to residents of Morgan and Lawrence Counties. Services provided include nursing care; home health aides; medical equipment and supplies; medications; and support from social workers, chaplains, and—of course—volunteers. Without volunteers, hundreds of tasks, some small and others quite large, would go undone every day. Needless to say, whenever a group calls looking for something to do, the Hospice can always use assistance.
When Karen called, the coordinator of office volunteers asked if the students would like to create barrier bags. These bags are small paper sacks that contain a sheet of blank newspaper and several paper towels. Hospice of the Valley nurses and home health aides carry the bags into patients’ homes whenever they make a visit. The paper is spread onto a surface so that the staff member can place his or her medical pack on the newspaper rather than putting it directly onto a surface in the home. By doing so, they prevent the transfer of germs from one home to the next. At the end of the visit, the staff member washes his or her hands and uses the paper towels in the barrier bag to dry them. Each visit requires one bag, so with more than ten nurses each making over 20 visits every week and nine home health aides each making an average of 25 visits every week, many barrier bags are needed.
The students spend about 48 hours per month creating the barrier bags and have become the Hospice’s sole supplier of them. They assemble the materials, but also go above and beyond the call of duty by decorating the paper bags with colorful pictures and designs. Each Monday and Wednesday Karen and her class work on the bags, and Karen is always quick to call the office when supplies are running low. The work is valuable for Hospice of the Valley, and according to Karen, it is a blessing to her class as well. Karen says that creating barrier bags on a regular basis allows her students to learn to give back to the community—she claims it is an especially important lesson for a group that is so often given to. The students enjoy the work because they can see their accomplishment in the boxes full of completed bags and in new supplies arriving as the finished bags are picked up from the school. Each student can see success in the project, and even those who do not always see success in other areas are able to create bags that help the community by helping Hospice of the Valley care for the terminally ill.
Near the end of last school year, the class took the initiative to make enough extra bags to carry Hospice through the months of summer break. This was a tremendous help to the agency as it saved staff members from trying to find another group to take on the task of constantly replenishing the supply of barrier bags. The Decatur High Developmental Students have proven themselves to be valuable members of the Hospice family and of Morgan County. Their dedication, initiative, and positive attitudes can serve as an inspiration to those who feel they might not have very much to give back to the community—and even more so to those who do.