My name is Elizabeth VanCamp and I’m the Director of Marketing & Development at Hand-in-Hand. My job is to tell our story to the Quad Cities community, reach parents who might be looking for the programs we offer, and raise funds for our programs.
I attended my first Chili Cook-Off (Hand-in-Hand’s big fundraiser in January) about 5 years ago. The Cook-Off was a great time, and it introduced me to the organization. A couple of years later, I approached the center director at Hand-in-Hand to ask if I could volunteer my graphic design skills to help with updating the Chili Cook-Off marketing materials. I updated some social media graphics and the event flyer and I, of course, attended the event again. However, I kept the organization at an arm’s length away because I was uncomfortable. I hadn’t been regularly exposed to people who had disabilities and I never purposefully tried to get to know anyone with different needs than me, so I didn’t know what to say or how to act around Hand-in-Hand’s participants. I was assuming that I would need to treat our participants differently than everyone else I encountered in my life, and that was an incorrect assumption.
About a year later, I found out that my current position was open at Hand-in-Hand and I applied for it, and a month later, I started as the Director of Marketing & Development. My first day, I was very nervous. What would I say to participants as I got to know them? How would I act? Would they be able to tell I was nervous? What if I didn’t use the correct language in regards to disabilities? It sounds ridiculous and, being honest, it was ridiculous. I quickly realized that Hand-in-Hand’s participants are no different than me. They attend programs at Hand-in-Hand to have fun with their friends, learn new skills, get exercise, and to just be themselves in a safe environment. Who wouldn’t want a place where they can do all these things?
It took about two days before I was in love with every participant. The nerves fell away and were replaced with a comfortable feeling akin to how I feel with my good friends. Our participants make me laugh every single day, they teach me how to be more open-minded and not make assumptions, and they give me motivation to tell more people in the Quad Cities about Hand-in-Hand so more families can experience the positive benefits our organization offers. I love doing my job because I know that it benefits our participants and their families, and anything I can do to help make their lives better is a job worth doing.
My biggest takeaways from my time at Hand-in-Hand so far are:
Just because someone has different needs, doesn’t mean they need to be treated differently. Interact with them as you would anyone else; give them respect, kindness, and open-mindedness
Getting to know people who are different than you makes your life so much richer and fuller. The world is a much more vibrant place with all of us in it because we’re unique individuals
Our participants have different life experiences than me (and vice versa) and it's a wonderful experience learning from each other every day
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