When Sharon Douglas walked into her first volunteer session with West Shore Challenge of Fairview Park in 1984, she did not realize she had begun what would become a family legacy. Making the choice to volunteer came naturally for her since both of her brothers had been born with a physical disability called Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy. While working with the program, Sharon saw firsthand how the sports and activities not only enriched her brothers’ lives, but that of family members as well. “Volunteering became a large part of my life,” Sharon said remembering her teen years. She added that she formed close friendships with other program youth and volunteers because they had a common bond. “It was nice to meet families and siblings with the same issues,” she added.
Fast forward to 2015. Sharon’s daughter Zoe, a sophmore at Rocky River High School, has volunteered for the organization since Spring 2013. Even though she has earned two varsity letters on the tennis team and is a member of ESU “Exceptional Students Unlimited,” High Adventure Girl Scouts, and participates in her church youth group, Zoe takes volunteering at YC in stride. YC provides schedule flexibility to let her help with activities when she has time. Right now, that is a few days a month. She also serves on the YC volunteer committee. Becoming a volunteer was easy according to Zoe. A two hour training session taught her how to help participants adapt their skills to activities. She also spent time shadowing others helping out. Recently, Zoe was recognized for the more than 160 hours she has spent helping with tennis, bowling, swimming and summer outdoor activities as well as arts and crafts. “Volunteering has opened my mind to see what others deal with when they work to overcome their disabilities. I enjoy the program and am proud of the difference it makes,” Zoe said. She added, “The volunteering takes you out of your comfort zone. But it makes you realize how fortunate you are to have abilities. The kids are nice to get to know and you are able to put a smile on their face by providing them a social opportunity that they would not otherwise experience.”
Sharon said she is happy to see the program has evolved over the years. Better care, more specialized equipment and opportunities have enabled participants to live longer. And she is proud of the fact the program is serving a larger area since it expanded to the East side in 2013. As the conversation with the two ends, Sharon’s 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, who is listening chimes in, “When I am older, I am going to volunteer too!” Youth Challenge has more than 400 volunteers and is anxious to add you to the list. To find out more about YC and how you can become involved, check out our links on the left.