- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Volunteers from Transitional Services have the same problem every time they undertake a community service project.

They don’t want to leave.

“We didn’t even want to take lunch breaks,” said 29-year-old Ashley Sullivan. “We just want to keep working.”

Sullivan has a mild traumatic brain injury and receives support services during the day from Transitional Services Inc. TSI, a part of the Indiana Mentor network, provides programming and activities for individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Volunteering for local nonprofits is always a highlight for their clients.

“They ask, ‘Are we painting again this week? What are we doing this week?’” Mark Norris, area director for TSI Bloomington, told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1BnH1P7 ). “We try to find different volunteer opportunities all the time. It’s good community integration for our folks. It provides an atmosphere for helping others.”

In early February, a group of TSI volunteers met at the New Hope Family Shelter to refurbish the nonprofit’s newest Second Street location. The volunteers sprayed blow-in insulation, installed subflooring and primed and painted the walls.

People with disabilities are sometimes thought of as a burden on society, New Hope Executive Director Elaine Guinn said. In her experience, that sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Our friends at TSI have helped us immensely, often when others have let us down,” Guinn said.

“We say this all the time at New Hope - sometimes you just need people to show up. And they do.”

TSI’s day services groups held a car wash for New Hope and raised $450, built a shed and unloaded and put together furniture for the temporary homeless shelters. Their hard work often comes as a pleasant surprise to their fellow volunteers, according to Collton Rickelman, a 20-year-old with autism.

“We see people come up to us, shaking our hands and trying to give us hugs, and we usually don’t get that from people,” Rickelman said.

And they laugh off their struggles. Rickelman’s medication makes his hands shake, and he said while volunteering at New Hope, he accidentally held a can of paint sideways, spilling it all over a fellow volunteer. Rickelman and his friends can’t recall the story without cracking up.

TSI tries to involve people with disabilities across the spectrum in volunteer work. For example, people with physical disabilities help prepare food for lunch breaks, which the volunteers also try to skip to fit in additional helping.

“It was a good experience, and it’ll be good on my resume when I try to get a job,” Sullivan said.

Finding work experience can be hard for people with disabilities, which puts them at a disadvantage when job hunting. Volunteering provides a way for individuals to better themselves while they better the community, and Norris loves seeing the volunteers grow with the organizations they help.

Josh Otto, a 29-year-old with schizophrenia, has helped the Salvation Army with their Stuff-a-Bus toy and clothing drive, and volunteers regularly at the Community Kitchen. He has also worked at Goodwill for four years.

At a winter open house for New Hope, Otto pointed out there wasn’t a Christmas tree on display, a tradition he knew would be sorely missed by some residents. So he and Norris immediately went out to buy one.

“They always think like that,” Norris said. “They have different abilities than we do. They think about other things in the process I wouldn’t even think about.”

And Norris reminds the TSI volunteers that anyone can be one accident or one lost job away from being in the shoes of the people who need the organizations they volunteer with.

“You never know when you’re going to need the help,” said Josh Burns, a 19-year-old with bipolar disorder and autism.

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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