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10 Things I Learned from Volunteering With ESP

Lexi Domlija shares what she has learned from volunteering with the program: Extra Special People.

What is ESP? Extra Special People “serves children and young adults with developmental disabilities and their families through year-round thrive programs, family support, and community involment”. ESP is the greatest organization in the world!

1. I learned that ESP is a family

I have been volunteering with ESP since my first semester freshman year and have never looked back! I remember the first time I walked into the ESP building for volunteer training, the volunteer coordinator said, “ESP is truly a family” and those words have rung true. I have felt what it means to be part of a family for people to have similar passions, goals, and hobbies. Each person at ESP is so welcoming and I have made incredible friendships through volunteering. I cannot imagine what UGA be like without my ESP family!

2. I learned about acceptance

At ESP, everyone is accepted for who they are, and each person is important and valued! ESP is all about taking the “dis” out of disability. Every participant is given the opportunity to thrive and engage with the activity.

3. I learned about patience

Patience is an important lesson to learn with yourself and with others. Getting to know new buddies takes flexibility and patience as you explore who they are. You also learn a lot about who you are and how you work best.

4. I learned about the value of embracing oneself

This is something I get to witness each time I am volunteering at ESP, but one specific event comes to mind and that is ESP’s Big Hearts Pageant. Big Hearts is a pageant to celebrate each person’s talents and beauty. Watching each participant go out on stage and perform their talents for the whole Classic Center to see was inspiring and I am proud of everyone’s ability to embrace who they are. They sang and danced like nobody was watching!

5. I learned about finding my passion

ESP volunteers are some of the most passionate people I have ever met, and I am constantly inspired by their passion and dedication! I started at the University of Georgia as a Journalism major ready to become an investigative journalist. Then, through volunteering at ESP, I knew that my passion lies elsewhere. I eagerly switched my major to Human Development and Family Sciences with a Disability Studies Certificate and am now on the Pre-Occupational Therapy track. ESP allowed me to realize that I could turn my passion of volunteering with people with disabilities into a career. When you are of service to others, your life purpose finds you.

6. I learned that everyone is special in their own way

Through volunteering at ESP, I have learned that each person is unique. ESP really allows you to get to know your different buddies on a personal level and pick up on their special traits! I have seen the participants personalities shine!

7. I learned that there are so many good people in this community

The love and support that goes into ESP is incredible. Each person who is involved with ESP from the staff to the interns to the volunteers to the participants and their families to the community partners and everyone in between, show me the good in our world.

8. I learned how to celebrate the little things in life

At the end of the ESP day we brag on some of the participants for an amazing job in class! It’s so important that people feel celebrated and loved and ESP does just that.

9. I learned how to talk to people

I learned how to talk and talk! Some buddies are chattier than others and in order to engage the less chatty ones, you do all the talking! It’s a wonderful skill to be able to carry a conversation. I have a lot of fun just talking about anything and everything with my buddies. It’s incredible creating bonds with the less chatty people and it has really taught me what it means to connect with someone.

10. Most importantly, I learned what true happiness is

I cannot thank ESP enough for teaching me what true happiness is. I have felt and seen more joy at ESP than anywhere else. ESP turns a bad day into a good day. There is nothing better than seeing the participants thriving, being themselves, and having fun. There is a bond created within each person at ESP through love, acceptance, and excitement. ESP changed my life!

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