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Lift Me Up This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Her body shakes and her already large eyes widen. Drool dribbles from her open lips to the wet spot on her pink T-shirt, and her wrists quiver and stiffen, leaving her hands resting at an awkward angle to her unnaturally thin arms.

Leila tightens her grip on my arm ­as the seizure assails her frail frame. Seizures are not new for her. In fact, it is her illness that brings her to the horse barn every Sunday for horseback therapy.

Often when I am helping support Leila in the saddle, I contemplate how frustrating it must be for her not to be able to take off her sweatshirt when she gets hot, or ask for a tissue, or control her body during a seizure. Yet in all the years I have known Leila, I have never heard her complain. With her gentle, quiet manner and goofy smile, she makes me feel lucky to spend time with her each week.

I haven't always felt this way. When I first pulled on my grimy leather riding boots and trudged into the Lift Me Up! barn, I was nervous. I felt a twinge of discomfort amidst the wheelchairs, gaping mouths, and strange noises ­uttered by the children. I didn't know what to say when I led a quiet girl's horse around and around the ring, and I was alarmed when a boy grabbed a fistful of my hair and refused to let go. The idea of having to wipe drool with a crumpled hankie was frightening, as were the moans and groans I struggled to interpret and respond to.

Those first few weeks of volunteering were challenging; I always felt awkward and unsure of how to approach these riders, whose lives felt like foreign countries to me. I was much more comfortable grabbing a pitchfork and scooping manure from the stalls.

Although I wanted to quit, I returned each Sunday. Somehow, as I met and chatted with the riders, I slowly began to feel more relaxed. To my surprise, I came to recognize that just like my peers at school, each of these children had a distinct personality. I discovered Kate's love of all things Disney – particularly Winnie the Pooh – as well as Skye's fondness for the barn cat. Abby enjoys picking flowers, and every week I am given an update abut Joselito's pet lizard.

Now I come to Lift Me Up! with a very different attitude than when I first began working here. The children's disabilities have faded ­into the background; I see past any illnesses and simply connect with the kids.

Consequently, my approach toward people with disabilities outside the barn has changed too. A wheelchair signifies that an individual might need a door held open. I feel a great respect for these individuals who are just as unique and hard-working as the rest of society, and I am saddened by some people's inability to see their wonderful personalities due to fear and unease, as I once did.

Thanks to Leila and many of the other children at Lift Me Up!, I now understand how to treat and value ­others, especially those whom we ­perceive as different.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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laila_265 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm:
This is awesome! I also volunteer with kids with special needs, so I can totally relate to your experience!! As you said, what always strikes me is how unique each kid is/their distinct personalities. You did a really good job showing how this experience changed you, and I really like how honest this piece was.  
 
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kate244 said...
Aug. 19, 2012 at 11:54 am:
That sounds like an awesome experience! 

What I would do is make it more about you. While this shows you have compassion and attention to detail, it doesn't have a lot of reflection, it is just kind of 'look at how much community service I do.' Good luck! 
 
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