My alarm woke me up at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday. As I rolled out of bed I immediately thought, “Why did I sign up for Funday?” As I walked to the UC Breezeway and saw the hundreds of students who came out to participate in the event, however, I got into the Funday spirit.
Funday, currently in its 23rd year at UM, is the largest philanthropic event held on campus. It is a day when approximately 300 individuals with physical or mental disabilities come to campus to experience things they would not get to do otherwise.
These “special citizens” are of all ages and have disabilities ranging from Down Syndrome or Tourette’s to various physical challenges.
“We get so many people involved who wouldn’t normally do so – from Greek Life, student organizations and residential halls,” Aarti Patel, Funday executive board member, said.
I met Maureen, my buddy for the day, as she got off the bus from Wayside Baptist Church. The first thing she said after I introduced myself to her was, “I work at the University of Miami.” It turns out Maureen works the night shift at Chartwells, in silverware.
I found out quickly that Maureen liked to dance. As we walked back to the Rock, Maureen’s shoulders began to bounce as country music pumped from the speakers. I asked if she would like to dance with me, and pretty soon she was twirling me around and creating steps for me to follow.
Maureen and I went through various activities together, including music therapy, mystery theater and arts and crafts.
Throughout the day, I got to learn a little bit more about Maureen’s life. She told me about her boyfriend, Ronald, and her favorite singer, Johnny Mathis. I found out that she was 38 years old and held two jobs in addition to her job at Chartwells.
She said little without my asking her direct questions, but she always had a smile on her face. Every time she initiated conversation I got this warm, fuzzy feeling inside. I could not stop beaming when she rolled over with laughter as one of her friends was serenaded during the mystery theater performance.
I spent a good part of the day hoping that I was showing Maureen a good time. I prayed that she was not bored under that quiet, calm demeanor.
My fears subsided when, as we were dancing on the patio after our BBQ lunch, she suddenly put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I like you.” I felt like picking her up and giving her a huge hug.
This was the first time I experienced such a united atmosphere of generosity and giving at UM. Not once did I see impatience in the eyes of a UM buddy when one of the special citizens wandered off. Nor did anyone complain when a 13-year-old girl stole the microphone in the middle of a performance put on for the citizens.
“It really brings out a lot on campus,” Melissalynn Lauron, Funday co-chair, said. “These [volunteers]could have been at the beach, but they chose to be here instead.”
According to Lauron, planning for Funday has been underway since June.
“It takes a lot of time and dedication,” Lauron said. “But you realize how worthwhile all the planning is.”
I did not want to say goodbye to Maureen as I walked her back to the bus. When she turned to me and said, “I had a wonderful time today,” I could honestly reply that I did, too.
Perhaps group leader Aditi Kothekar summed it up best when she said, “They are going to remember this day for a really long time.”
I can honestly tell you I, too, will remember this day for a really long time.
For more information about Funday and other volunteer opportunities, contact the Volunteer Services Center at 305-284-GIVE.
Megha Garg can be contacted at email@example.com.