I like to say that ESP found me.
I have spent the past eight months working as an intern for ESP while attending graduate school at UGA, and working a part-time job on campus.
I came back to school after four years as a newspaper reporter, determined to learn a new set of skills that I could turn around and use in either the nonprofit sector or in an advocacy position.
I met Samantha Plotino, the woman who would become my ESP supervisor and an incredibly motivated, passionate Americorps member, at a UGA part-time job fair in August. I was interested in her organization and what she had to say. I thought to myself “I'd love to volunteer with them sometime.”
But, she convinced me to interview for an internship that would start in the fall. And somehow, she and Executive Director Laura Whitaker convinced me to add another thing to my plate by taking the position.
I was anxious about the idea of taking on an internship with my other responsibilities. Most people in my program wait until the summer between their first and second years to intern somewhere.
I had also left a career to come back to school, and that was my primary commitment.
But, the rewards I've received because of my decision to work with ESP have been immeasurable.
This organization has an amazing history in this community. It is growing. It is dynamic. It runs on the blood, sweat and tears of a very small, very dedicated, (and often very tired) staff – as well as some incredibly loving, big-hearted volunteers.
And, most importantly, it places the children it serves and its mission at the center of absolutely everything it does.
You could say I drank the Kool-aid.
But, I think you would hear the exact same thing from anyone who has spent at least five minutes at summer camp or ESP club, who has attended ESP's Big Hearts Pageant, or who has watched a young person with a developmental disability skydive with ESP. It is infectious, and it makes you want to jump, scream, clap for joy at what a safe, inspiring, fun space has been created for children and young adults with disabilities here in our corner of Georgia.
My internship with ESP is ending this week. As happens when anything ends, there's a gamut of emotions that come with this.
But, as I've said to ESP staff – I don't like goodbyes, and I have trouble when things end. So, things are not technically ending with me and ESP.
See, that's the thing about this organization. Once you become part of the ESP family, you never truly stop being part of it.
This will be my last blog post for ESP. I'm working with the small full-time staff to ensure that ESP retains a presence in Local Voices here on the Oconee Patch.
Also, I will continue to handle the most pressing public relations functions for ESP on an as-needed basis. And, of course, I will continue to volunteer with ESP.
As valuable as I feel my contributions to ESP have been as it has launched a capital campaign to expand services, staff, and build a new facility – what really feels great is working with the kids.
I look forward to being able to do that regularly, especially during summer camp this year.
And I invite anyone reading this consider joining me.
I'm not just saying that because I work for ESP. No one is forcing me to write this. I'm doing it because this is an organization in which I wholeheartedly believe, implicitly trust, and fervently desire to see grow and flourish long after my formal commitment ends.
If anything I've written – in this post or in previous ones – speaks to you on some level, please consider getting involved with ESP.
It doesn't take a 10- to 15-hour-a-week commitment like mine. It can be a couple of hours once a month at Saturday club with our younger ESP'ers, or Friday night No Kids Allowed, our club for 16-and-older ESP'ers. No matter what, we need dedicated people from this community who can help kids with disabilities feel included and valued by people in this community. People like you.
Because that's what ESP is all about.
Please call (706) 769-9333 or visit our website to learn more about ESP and how you can get involved.