The Ability Experience and Helping Hands Respite Care

Ability Experience bike riders lined up in front of Helping Hands for a reception line

On July 30th  The Ability Experience happened in East Lansing as 37 hot and sweaty young men converged on Helping Hands Respite Care for a special visit.  These men, all part of a national fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, competed to be selected to be part of what some might consider 50 plus days of torture.  They hoped to be chosen to be part of an amazing, life-changing journey, aptly called the Journey of Hope.  It is all part of the fraternity’s national charitable fund-raising organization The Ability Experience event where three teams of riders are assembled to participate in a cross-country fund-raising bike rides. There are three routes planned across country – a northern route, mid- of the country route, and the southern route. They all begin in major west coast cities and end in Washington DC.  Each man selected to participate is responsible for raising the funds to cover the cost of their participation in a national cross-country bike ride, to train in preparation for the ride, and to assist in fund-raising.

For the past three years, Helping Hands Respite Care has been one of the friendship visit stops of the Journey of Hope riders.  Friendship stops are planned for the riders so that they may meet and engage with people with disabilities served by a variety of organizations.  You see, the mission of The Ability Experience is to not only raise funds to be granted to nonprofits like Helping Hands, but also to create a generation of future leaders who will have a greater understanding, compassion, and connection with people with disabilities. Helping the riders understand that while the people they meet on their journey may have disabilities – they also have many abilities!

Hosting the Ability Experience riders has become an event that we look forward to each year.

The Ability Experience games include Giant  Jenga. Two riders and Bob Sr. and Jr. Matheson took a chance with the game.

The past two years we have taken the community picnic to the next level by planning fun, interactive games for the riders to participate in with some of our clients and family members.  This year our “Ability Games” included the popular water-balloon human bowling pins, giant jenga, an old-fashion hula-hoop competition, pool noodle javelin throwing, flying discs, and corn-hole bean bag toss.

Putting on this community picnic and games is an effort that is largely accomplished by the administrative team of Helping Hands Respite Care.  Leading the charge in planning, set-up, and even game creation is our leader and executive director, John Stauffer.  Also at work before, during and after were:  Office Administrator Janette Lauzon (plus her team of young men that came to help set-up and clean-up); Scheduler Rhonda Mliakoff who joined in the food prep and cooking duties along with Adult Day Services Nurse Jane Rogers; Adult In-Home Supervisor Jeff Nunham and his wife Karen focused on the grills, cooking, and keeping the food line supplied; Consultant Katie Donovan provided some shade as she stuffed her 20×10 foot tent in her little Chevy and convinced the East Lansing Rotary Club to lend us two other smaller tents; and ADS program Team Leader Jeff Gindlesberger showed up early to help with set-up and clean-up.

Volunteers for Ability Experience Community Picnic

Volunteers included Connie Tubbs who arrived early to help with food prep; Bill Bartilson once again came prepared to create music and public address system for us; and Board Member Jane Beaudoin stepped up to fill a critical need for the riders….the Beaudoins convinced their condo association to allow the riders to bunk at the community building and pool overnight. Once the guys arrived it was clear that there was not enough room so Jane and Gary Beaudoin opened their home for more of the riders.

We had clients join in the fun from our Adult Day Services program, Kate’s Memory Café regulars, our Child-In Home program, and Adult-In Home.  Some care-providers who were on-duty providing respite care made sure to come and join in along with their care partner.  Several Board Members and donors also arrived for the picnic and festivities.

While we put on this event with the skinniest of budgets, and tax our hard-working team to get it all done, we find it to be so richly rewarding in those little moments where we interact with the riders, or have a moment to enjoy the company of client/families/friends in a social setting. This is an event that pays dividends of the heart.  To all of those who lent a hand to make this event happen …we are so grateful!