It’s one of my favorite days every year.
The beach is overcast, the picnic area is crowded with volunteers, staff members, water professionals, clipboard officials and onlookers. The participants (youth with special needs) are gathering over by the wet suits, getting their helmets and life jackets. I volunteer at Best Day every summer, so I know things will calm down soon and we’ll get our assignments, so I just stand still and take it all in, staying out of the way but where I can be seen when the time is right. The purpose of the Foundation and our being here today is to give youth with special needs their best day at the beach. It’s why I love volunteering as a “buddy.”
“Is there a buddy available?” I hear someone call out, barely audible over the chattering crowd. I look around to see where the voice is coming from and I hear it again, “Do we have an available buddy?”
A “buddy” is the volunteer who is paired with a participant on the beach that day, to stay with them and take them wherever they want to go, to cheer them on and keep them safe as they surf, paddle board, kayak, build sandcastles, and experience anything and everything available.
There she is. I spot her through the crowd, over by the registration tent. A young staff member is standing by a participant, a young man, who is all set to go have some fun. She calls out again, “Do we have any buddies available right now?” I can’t believe it. It’s as though I’m the only one who can hear her and I’m at least 20 feet and 15 people away. I catch her eye and yell, “I am! I’m available!” She smiles and I make my way over to her.
She looks relieved because she actually has another job at the event, but this sweet guy was on his way to the water when she happened to catch him. “Oh hi, this is Matthew, and he’s ready to go down to the beach now! I’m not sure where his parents are or his guardian, so would you mind standing with him for now?” I happily say, “Of course, I’m happy to do that!” I look at this magical, sweet face and say, “Hi Matthew, I’m Terri and I’ll be your buddy today. Is that ok with you?” He looks up at me and says gently and quietly, “Yes.” He smiles a beautiful, bright smile and puts his arms around my waist. I melt into bliss as I put my arms around his shoulders and feel an overwhelmingly warm feeling of love and joy. It’s done. We’re instantly forever-friends, I just know it. We let go and Matthew gives me a kiss on the cheek…yep, he’s quite the charmer.
When it’s time to pair up the buddies and participants for the day, staff member Maggie walks over with her clipboard as we head to the beach. “Hey, Terri. You good?” “Yep,” I say, “I’m all set. This is Matthew.” She winks as she sees the twinkle in my eye, and knows we’re a perfect match, then she asks, “Well, I know you don’t need any help, but would you mind if Sarah hangs out with you and Matthew? Sarah has come to volunteer today, too.” I welcome a big hug from Sarah and say, “I’d love some help from Sarah today, thank you!”
What a great day! Sarah is a vibrant, happy adult with special needs who has shown up today to volunteer because her friend is a staff member. How blessed am I to get to spend the day playing with Matthew all day, and now Sarah too?
Soon, Matthew’s mother, Jacqui walks over and we hit it off immediately. She tells me Matthew is not too verbal, and I tell her, “He doesn’t need to be…he communicates his wit and humor perfectly with little to no words at all.” It’s true.
At one point, Jacqui looks at me with such deep appreciation and joy as she tells me she believes Matthew and I were supposed to meet today. I agree.
Matthew is first on the surf board to start the day for everyone. For the next 3 hours we go from kayaks to paddle boards, back to surf boards and boogie boards and through them all again. And again. I sign Matthew up each time, walk him to the water professional who takes him out into the sea, and I wait by the shore, cheering him on as he coasts back in. I’m in heaven. Matthew owns the beach…he is having so much fun, he’s filled with pure joy. All the kids are. Everyone can feel it.
When it’s time to leave after lunch and the award ceremony, Jacqui and I exchange numbers and she invites me to come see them sometime, maybe for lunch with Matthew and a hike. I graciously accept, and I mean it.
Matthew kisses me again on the cheek and we hug with joy and happiness like we’ll never let go.
This truly has been one of my Best Days.
P.S. Jacqui sends me a few pictures from the day, and we keep in touch. This morning my phone rings and it’s Jacqui with a very special invitation. On Saturday I’ll be going to the Alpha Resource Center’s Family Picnic as a member of Matthew’s family. I have a feeling I’ll be sharing more hugs and kisses, and I can hardly wait.