Despite all my thirty-two-year-old daughter’s mental and physical challenges, she has a heart as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Lindsey takes after my husband in that respect. I wish I could say she inherited her generosity from me, but every single day, I work at giving.
I’ve experienced spontaneous charitible moments when I purchased $5 Footlong’s for a hungry couple or a full-meal deal for a homeless woman. When I donate to an individual living on the street, I prefer to give food. I’m afraid cash might go for drugs or booze. Someone else might not care. He may hand the man on the street a few coins or dollars without attaching any strings. But for me, a food donation lets me be in control of how the money is spent.
My husband and I write quarterly checks to S.A.C.A., our local food bank. We open our wallets for anything education related–fundraisers for Silverton schools or sporting events. We’ve contributed to charities that support disabled individuals (one of our favorites because we live “disabled” firsthand). Over the years, monetary gifts to other non-profit organizations have been sporadic: United Way, American Red Cross, Katrina, Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami Fund, American Idol Gives Back. Yet the truth is, we’ve been blessed; we could give more generously.
But my daughter doesn’t have to work at giving. Like Nike, she just does it. Consistently.
When Lindsey turned sixteen, she adopted her first sponsor child from Children International. Ten-year-old Verlie was from the Philippines. Lindsey promised to send $12 a month in exchange for letters and pictures and drawings. She thought the trade-off well worth it. “I love gettin’ mail,” Lindsey said, explaining how she’d always wanted a family but didn’t want to “pass on” her tremors (or any other idiosyncrasies of her disability) onto another human being.
I thought my daughter would tire of the monthly treks to Roth’s or Safeway or High School Pharmacy to buy the required money order. On every allowance day, then every pay day, Lindsey walked to the store, rain or shine, snow or sleet, to exchange her cash for a money order, fix a stamp on the upper right hand corner of the envelope, a return address label on the opposite end, and slip it into a U.S. Postal box.
“I put my money to good use,” Lindsey told me. “I could be buying drugs or junk food.” (Maybe she doesn’t fall so far from her mama’s tree?) I smirked, wondering if she thought these were her only two other options.
But I was proud of her.
Two or three times a year, a letter printed in child’s penmanship arrived for Lindsey. While I cooked dinner, Lindsey stood in the kitchen and read Verlie’s words out loud–the subjects Verlie took in school, the chores she preformed around the house, her favorite pastime: jumping rope.
“My daughter is so smart,” Lindsey would say, tucking the letter into a cardboard shoebox she hid under her bed.
New photographs of Verlie arrived in the mail. Lindsey removed the old one from a pewter picture frame she displayed on the top of her dresser. She slid the old photo into a “Mommy’s Brag Book” before she inserted the most recent picture into the frame and set it back on top of her dresser. Every time someone came to visit, Lindsey dragged out her brag book, flipped through the photos, describing Verlie at this age or that age. Once I overheard Lindsey critique the child’s clothing. “I sure like that top,” she said, pointing to a photograph. “It looks good on her and it has lots of pretty flowers. But I don’t much care for this one. It’s not her color.” I wondered if Lindsey was a secret member of the fashion police, which surprised me since she’d never been a fashionista for herself.
Verlie stayed in the program until she was nineteen. “Now she’s a stewardess on an airplane serving drinks,” Lindsey said, beaming. “It’s her dream job.”
Lindsey wanted to continue the program and sponsored three-year-old Kayla. Children International promised to use my daughter’s $12 a month to help pay for medical and dental expenses, school supplies, clothing, and food. Then Kayla’s family abruptly dropped from the program–they disappeared. “I don’t know where my daughter is anymore,” Lindsey said, her voice drifted away as she stroked Kayla’s photo over and over. “So now I have Ann Jeannette. She’s my third sponsor child. She’s eleven.” Lindsey’s hands tremored as she turned the page in her brag book. “She was seven when I started,” she said, pointing out how much Ann had grown.
Once a month Lindsey receives her Social Security Disability payment. She works part time: two hours a day, five days a week. But Lindsey is willing to give up a Snicker’s-mocha-iced-coffee and a new Dora The Explorer coloring book in order to send a $12 money order. “I budget,” Lindsey said. “They need the money more than I do. I’m doing a good thing sponsoring them.”
“Which daughter is your favorite?” I asked, peeking over Lindsey’s shoulder, studying the photographs.
“I don’t have one,” she said, shaking her head. “They’re all my favorites.”
Diana, our neighbor and friend, (who also happens to be the Director of Special Education in a Woodburn, Oregon grade school) asked Lindsey how she might adopt a child, too?
“It’s a big responsibility,” Lindsey lectured Diana, wagging a finger in her direction. Lindsey shoved an information packet across the table toward our neighbor. “It’s like having your own kids, but you don’t have to push them out your vagina.” I cringed, exasperated Lindsey still hadn’t developed any language filters. Diana just nodded her head and smiled, jotting down the organization’s information.
Lindsey’s been committed to this program for one hundred and ninety-six months. “I’ll do it for as long as I can,” she said. “Hopefully, for the rest of my life.” Lindsey told me that the best part of sponsoring these kids is that she gets to pick the sex of her child. “I always pick a girl. I wouldn’t know how to talk to a boy kid.” Lindsey twirled a strand of hair around her finger as she chatted, looking at all three of her girls. “I lucked out,” she said. “They all have the same birthday.” Lindsey gulped. “October 14.”
“October 14th?” I asked. “The same day you married your husband?
“Yep.” Lindsey nods. “It’s my lucky day.”
John and I are also inspired by Lindsey’s long-term dedication to these children. We can do a better job of supporting organizations we believe in. Therefore, we have renewed our commitment to make a monetary donation to a non-profit organization every single month this year.
Every month or so, I highlight a non-profit organization that offers support to people with special needs. This month, I’m featuring The Arc.
The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. The Arc believes that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are defined by their own strengths, abilities and inherent value, not by their disability. For 60 years, The Arc has been on the front lines in making change happen for people diagnosed with Autism, Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and a range of diagnoses across the spectrum of intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc is the nation’s leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families and the premier provider of the supports and services people want and need.
If you are looking for an organization that could use your help, consider The Arc. You can donate household furnishings, clothing, and other useful items–even cash. They often pick-up donations from your front porch. If you aren’t familiar with the good things The Arc does in your community, please click here to learn more. And remember, all donations to this organization are tax-deductible.
My first book, Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs will be out September 26, 2017. If you would like to learn more, click here.