Why I Serve; Why I Give

By John Thames, Wingspan Board Vice Chair

I’ve had the honor of serving on the Board of Wingspan Life Resources for many years. My personal connection to its mission of serving adults with developmental disabilities has inspired me to help, to donate, and to attend events.

My sister Kathy, the oldest of ten children, was born with special needs.  A child of the 1940s, the standard option at that time was to label her as “mentally retarded” and to lump her together with others diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and recommend immediate institutionalization.  My parents, however, were determined to care for her themselves.  For more than a year they carried her around on a pillow because she had no motor skills, she was like “jelly.”

My parents sought out other families with developmentally disabled children and organized a support group. Ultimately, with the help of a banker, a philanthropist and a nun, they founded a school for exceptional children that my sister attended for many years.  Today, Kathy is part of a work program.

My parents believed strongly in giving back to family, community and country.  My dad was a Brigadier General in the United States Army.  As one of the older children, it was ingrained in me that I had responsibilities for my younger siblings as well as Kathy.  Looking out for those more vulnerable or less fortunate remains an important part of our family values.  As such, Wingspan’s mission of helping people who are challenged by age, ability or health to realize their own unique gifts, talents, and dreams closely aligns with my personal values.

Kathy has always lived at home.  Growing up in a household full of siblings has been a big part of Kathy’s development and socialization.  Just as importantly, it has been a blessing for my siblings, my children, the in-laws, the grand kids and me.  We’ve not only learned about people with special needs, we’ve learned what is really important in life. I wish I could tell you all of us practice the lessons Kathy has taught us all the time.  I can say we try to remember that little things are meaningful; it does not cost to be nice, and sharing and loving are positives.

Though Kathy has been able to live at home her entire life, for many families this is not the ideal option for a variety of reasons.  For the families Wingspan serves, the option of a home where their loved one will be nurtured, supported and loved like family, provides a sense of relief in knowing that their family member will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

Thank you for listening to my story and for supporting Wingspan in any way.  You can make a difference!