My Day of Smiles… Why I Volunteer at the Larry Bregman M.D. Educational Conference
The Larry Bregman, M.D., Educational Conference is a two-day conference for adults with developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers. It is one of the many events planned in February as a part of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. The first evening features a dance for the participants, followed by the second day filled with workshops. The workshops emphasize topics such as being part of the community, being a self-advocate and living a healthy lifestyle. This year’s conference, themed “Avenues of Change,” took place February 25-26 at the Selig Center. More than 250 people attended with the help of 50+ volunteers.
For the fourth year in a row, I bundle up and head out to the Selig Center on a winter Sunday morning. Why would I choose to leave my house on a cold weekend at such an early hour? Because I am guaranteed to have a magical experience in an incredibly warm and inviting atmosphere. I get to join hundreds of spirited and upbeat folks for fun, food and fellowship.
Volunteers dressed in orange T-shirts start arriving early to make sure that breakfast items are put out, signs are hung, the registration table is organized and the bags full of goodies are ready to go for a very special group of people. As the mob of participants multiplies quickly, the whole building comes to life with a vibe of high energy, enthusiasm and inspiring human interactions.
I am a volunteer who looks forward to seeing my buddy from last year who hugs me and remembers my name and the sweet girl who shows me the matching bracelets she made for herself and her friend at the jewelry-making class. I feel a sense of exhilaration when I peek in the room during “Bregman” Idol and hear squelches of excitement as I watch the group dancing, singing and high fiving as they jam to the tunes. I am so proud of the group when the policeman passes by and raves about the interactive and inquisitive people he taught in his session about personal safety. As I help participants find their way to the next session, I am delighted to see one participant’s face light up as he introduces the girlfriend he met at last year’s conference. I am also impressed when a young participant stops by the registration table to find out how he can sign up to be on a panel for a session or part of the planning committee for next year’s conference. When I help pour lemonade in the lunch room, I notice it is loud with laughter and chatter as experiences are shared with friends and caretakers.
A certificate of participation is handed out at the end, which marks a major highlight of the year for most. As they exit the building, there is already chit chat about returning next year. A caretaker whispers in my ear that it is the most her client has smiled in months, which makes me realize that it is the most I’ve smiled in one day since last year’s Bregman conference.