When Sarah was in fourth grade, she volunteered to work with the students with disabilities during recess and when they needed extra help in the classroom. In this role, she got to know a fellow fourth-grader named Brandee who had Spina bifida. The two became fast friends.
Though Brandee was in a wheelchair, Sarah was adament that she get to do everything that the other fourth graders did. Sarah would push Brandee around the playground at recess so she could participate in girl talk or play four square with the other kids. When Sarah's best friends planned a dance for the elementary school talent show, Sarah invited Brandee to join them and choreographed some moves that Brandee could do from her chair.
That summer, Brandee asked Sarah if she would attend a week of summer camp with her, and Sarah excitedly agreed. She spent a week at Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village helping Brandee with fishing, horseback riding, and zipline, and she loved every minute of it. A photographer from the Denver Post captured a candid interaction between Brandee and Sarah at camp, and I think their faces say it all:
When Sarah got home, she asked my mom if she could go back to RMV as a volunteer the following summer, and my mom agreed. In the meantime, Sarah had an idea. Could she invite Brandee to sleep over at our house? Mom was hesitant because of Brandee's level of care, but Sarah assured her that she knew what to do to care for Brandee--she had watched her camp counselor take care of her for a week, and it was nothing that Sarah couldn't handle.
So my mom talked to Brandee's mom, and it was decided: Brandee would get to have her first sleepover at a friend's house. With a little training from Brandee's mom and a little help from our mom, Sarah was able to help Brandee with anything she needed while she stayed overnight at our home.
At the time, I didn't realize how remarkable it was that my eleven year old sister was helping her friend use the toilet and transfer out of her wheelchair into bed. It seemed totally normal to me because Sarah never acted like it was a big deal. She never treated Brandee any differently than she did her other friends. It didn't bother Sarah that Brandee needed help with a catheter in order to go to the bathroom or that she was more child-like than the rest of Sarah's peers. Sarah just loved Brandee and made her feel so included and important.
In the next ten years, Sarah returned to the Rocky Mountain Village Camp year after year--first as a volunteer then as a full-time counselor. Sarah was fiercely devoted to her campers. No matter the intensity of their medical and physical needs, she was undaunted in her efforts to make sure that they had a perfect week. I know she blessed many children and their families in her years at camp.
Because of Sarah's example, I volunteered and worked at camp too, as did my little sister. Because of Sarah's example, I got involved at the Hogar in El Salvador. Sarah's passion became my passion. Working with persons with disabilities has became one of my greatest sources of joy in life, and I never would've discovered this passion if it weren't for my older sister's example. I am so grateful that, from such a young age, she's always had such a huge heart and such a determination to make the lives around her better and happier.
Happy birthday to a woman who has made the world a much better place in her 31 years of life. I love you and look up to you!