Monday, May 29, 2017

RS: Parkinson's Wellness Expo "It was really heartening to see these people not willing to let this disease take so much from them"

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy. - Rabindranath Tagore
            The Parkinson’s Wellness Expo has been going on for years and is a way for patients with Parkinson’s to gather and go on a walk around a lake in the Southwood community and find information and resources that could help them, as well as to find others who are going through the same thing. The walk starts around 11 a.m. and usually finishes at about noon.
            My service project this semester was to volunteer at the Parkinson’s Wellness Expo. It is something that I did last year as well, and both years I have done it as part of my Venture Scout Crew. We are expected to show up at the Southwood community at 6:30 a.m. to assist in setting up, and I was only a few minutes late with my father and my friends. We were given t-shirts to help identify us as volunteers, and immediately began grabbing tents and tables to set up in the given area. The tents were so the people setting up stations, such as places with more information about the disease, or places that can help those with Parkinson’s, could be at ease in their station as the sun rose. When the tents and tables were set up there wasn’t much for us to do for a while as people arrived and walked around. Soon, under a large tent people started talking and giving speeches and demonstrations. We paid attention and participated when possible as people informed the gathering crowd about Parkinson’s, it’s effects and symptoms, and ways to counter those symptoms. There was a performance by a Parkinson’s choir group, and another by the Rock Steady Gym which teaches people with Parkinson’s boxing to improve the coordination, balance and other such things affected by Parkinson’s. There were exercises set to music to help combat similar issues, exercises we participated in. Just before 11 a.m. they sent the volunteers to take positions around the walk, some to count as the walk participants leave and return on the walk, some to count just as they pass by. My friend and I were stationed somewhere the walk participants would pass at the start and as they finished, so we were tasked with counting both. The beginning of the walk is always difficult because everyone is still grouped together and it can be difficult to count every person without losing count. As they return, the participants are much more spread out and easier to count. This led to the first count being 101 people leaving on the walk and 116 returning from the walk. Meanwhile two of our friends counted 121 people passing. Once we are fairly sure everyone has returned from the walk we are called back up to the main area and the start of the walk to help disassemble the tents, chairs, and tables set up. Then, we are sent on our way, usually just past 12:30 p.m. when everything is taken down that we can help with.
            By volunteering at the Parkinson’s Wellness Expo I have learned a lot about a disease I previously had no knowledge about, as well as enjoying the overall experience. I learned about what some of the symptoms were and ways to recognize and prevent some of the symptoms, as well as learning fun exercises that are helpful even without it to work on coordination. I learned that people with Parkinson’s can experience stiff muscles, trembling, and fatigue. They might have less expressive facial expressions, and speak softly. Some of the people there were told they might never be able to drive again, but with the help of Rock Steady Gym and other such resources, they were able to fight back against Parkinson’s and improve. It was really heartening to see these people not willing to let this disease take so much from them, participating in choirs to work on their decreased voice, or learning boxing for coordination, and balance. Someone spoke about how Parkinson’s can cause people to not want to be social, and they are getting together against that, to sing and box, and it’s really inspiring. The people there are usually very kind and thankful for our participation in making the Expo possible and it feels great to know how your efforts are helping people. They seemed happy to see us participating in the exercises as well. My friends all seemed to have a good time as well, and overall it was a really fun experience. It was completely worth waking up at 5 a.m. to go help out.

            When I first talked to my friends about joining me out there this year, none of them seemed to look forward to it and I could understand why. Waking up at 5 a.m. and being outside in the sun until past noon doesn’t sound pleasant, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience and I’m glad they joined me for my second year doing this. I hope I can volunteer again next year.