Lending Hands

Description: A feature story I wrote for The Scroll about a unique service opportunity called Hands.

Date: June 2018

On Wednesday, June 6th, room 127 of the Gordon B. Hinckley building was empty. Students trickled in and thumbed their phones, waiting for the “friends.”

Friends in this setting refers to disabled Rexburg citizens and students who come to room 127 every Wednesday for a unique activity-Hands.

When Hannah, a friend in the program, walked in the atmosphere changed like a light being uncovered. Smiles graced faces now turned up from their phones. Hannah laughed and called out to students she knows as she scrambled to hug them.

Later Ricky and Jacob sauntered in. Then Michael, Lisa and Jacob. Each friend charged the room with their smile and laughter. More students disengaged from their own affairs and welcomed their friends.

In less than five minutes a dead room came alive.

“Welcome, Welcome everyone,” said Krista Kohlhase, a senior studying therapeutic recreation. Kohlhase, with her bouncy blond ponytail, beamed as she welcomed students and friends.

Like every Wednesday, introduction kicked off the activity. Students and friends stated names and anticipated declaring their favorite color to the group.

The room groaned as five consecutive “pinks” were declared and Hannah squealed happily when someone finally said blue.

The room pulsed with red, blue, green, pink and yellow as introductions concluded.

Students and friends scooched their chairs up against the tables to make room as Gina rode to the front of the room on her motorized chair. Donning her favorite color-purple-on her patterned leggings, Gina led the group in the song “I am a child of God.”

Hannah prayed for “a good time” and the activity began. Students helped friends and friends encouraged students as paint, markers and Q-tips collided, resulting in beautiful paper plate paintings.

The room never quieted. Phones never surfaced, except to capture moments of Picassoesque brilliance, and smiles never faltered.

The hands program at BYU-I meets weekly to do more than just arts and crafts. Kohlhase, the weekly leader of Hands, said, “It gives me opportunities to grow, volunteers the opportunities to grow (and) the friends’ opportunities to grow.”

Students lend their hands to friends who sometimes can’t move their own and friends lend their hearts to students burdened by the stresses of life.

Becca Owen, a junior studying recreational management, just recently started attending Hands.

“I remember the first time I went to it,” she said. “I swear my mood just shot through the roof when I went in. I wasn’t having a bad day or anything, but I just was happier being in that room.”

A month ago, Lynette, a friend of Hands, sat across from Owen. Lynette struggled to communicate audibly so reached across the table for Owen’s hand.

Owen admitted Hands pushes her outside of her comfort zone. “Sometimes I do feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I don’t know how to approach people that have disabilities or maybe can’t communicate fully, but I think it’s been really good for me because we are supposed to love everybody, and I think loving people includes me and including them.”

Owen is not alone in her occasional discomfort around disabled persons.

According to The American Psychological Association, “Many people feel uncomfortable around individuals with disabilities. Much of this discomfort stems from lack of personal contact with people with disabilities and a sense of awkwardness and uncertainty as to how to speak and act in their presence.”

Hands immerse volunteers with little to no training in activities with disabled persons. Volunteers develop soft skills such as social perceptiveness, speech recognition and problem sensitivity.

“Every activity I leave gaining a new insight about life,” said Autumn Lulla, a junior studying Therapeutic Recreation, the current coordinator of Hands.

“Generalized as a whole, special needs service activities will hands down be the best thing you will ever get involved in,” said Lulla. “Not only will it give you the most best of friends you could ever want in college but it will open your eyes and give you a purpose and deeper meaning of life.”

Even the simplest of activities changes the hearts of students involved. Kohlhase recounted a day when Hanbroughtough her bunny, Spot, to campus for show and tell.

Kohlhase laughed while remembering how happy Hannah was to introduce Spot to everyone and when asked what her favorite experience with Hands has been said, “They’re all my favorite.”

Talents shows, field days and superhero dances all serve to serve the friends, but not just friends are served.

As students and friends trickled out of room 127 on Wednesday, June 6th, people were happier. They left better than they were before.

All because someone gave them a hand.