OUCARES gives new perspective

I cannot remember a time I wasn’t swimming. There is a running joke that I learned to swim before I learned to walk. So when a teammate asked me if I was interested in volunteering for OUCARES—a program through Oakland that among other things helps autistic kids learn how to perform various activities—I jumped on the opportunity and volunteered to help with the swim program.

The first Sunday of classes, I didn’t really know what to expect. The first of the group showed up and the lesson began. There were six volunteers, all from Oakland’s swim team, and about eight kids. We began by stretching, and then the kids sat on the edge and put their feet in.

I got to know one of the little boys rather well. Payton was six and had had a previous, terrifying experience in the water. He would not put his head under. Many of the others also did not enjoy their head underwater or getting their hair wet. I worked with Payton and his dad most of the first day. We made some progress and by the end he was able to put his mouth in the water in order to blow some bubbles.

Although this act seemed so simple to me and is something I do on a daily basis, it wasn’t for Payton. I just assumed that my history with the water and my love of it is something that most people share. OUCARES has completely shown me otherwise. It took this little boy 45 minutes to work up the courage to blow bubbles. It made me realize how much I have taken for granted, made me think about everything I do every day without even thinking about how others may not be able to do the same: Walking to class. Seeing the sunrise. Attending college. I never really gave these things a second thought. Now I’m thinking twice.

My dad told me this summer that every day he wakes up and thinks of three things he is grateful for. He told me if I do this every day, then I will always have enough. Being able to attend such an amazing university such as Oakland is something everyone here should be grateful and proud of. To think of everything I have done to get me to this school is a pretty phenomenal thought. So here’s to everyone who made it this far. You guys are kicking butt. Keep it up.

In the next time of stress, which will probably be tomorrow, I just need to think of all I have to be grateful for. When I do that, it gives me the motivation to keep going. I know that even though I think I have so much going on, there are others that are going through more.

After the first class, I could tell that OUCARES was going to be the highlight of my week. It is such a rewarding experience to be involved in. Seeing these kids strive toward their goals and having fun in the water is so heartwarming. Payton’s dad told me that his son doesn’t take to people easily. But when the second class ended, Payton hugged me goodbye. That made putting up with the screaming, the splashing and the crying all worth it.