At a local pizza joint in Gulfport, Miss., members gather monthly to celebrate their accomplishments and commiserate over the rough times.
It’s your typical Modern Woodmen chapter event, but it has one twist – many of the members in the Gulfport chapter have special needs.
“People who haven’t been around those with special needs feel unsure of how to interact with them at first,” says activities coordinator Catherine Myers. “That’s the great thing about our chapter. The other members grow comfortable, and our special needs members develop social skills in a safe place.”
A supportive community
Catherine, who has a 30-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, says the chapter has become a great resource for community members with special needs. A family whose daughter has Down syndrome moved to the area recently, and already members of the chapter are trying to get the family involved.
“Everyone who meets our special needs members learns from them,” Catherine says.
From the other chapter members to the waiters who serve them at chapter events, people learn to become more comfortable around those with special needs. At the same time, the events allow the group a way to volunteer.
The chapter raises money for causes that resonate with the group. For example, the group recently raised money to help a local school for the hearing impaired. During that event, the group attended a class at the school to learn more about the place they were raising money for. The group was excited to see that one of the class’ sign language interpreters had Down syndrome.
“It shows that those with special needs can still have strengths – that’s the whole philosophy of our camp,” Catherine says.
Catherine has watched the whole group grow more comfortable together. She’s seen the members with special needs become more outgoing. She’s also seen them show concern for an elderly member who has had a stroke or those going through a difficult time.
“The compassion runs both ways,” she says. “We’re all one big family. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s true.”