by Leah Sottile & r & When I was 17, one thing stood in the way of my cap and gown, my diploma and my hopes of a hefty graduation check. No matter how badly I wanted to leave high school, I wasn't going anywhere until I completed 60 hours of community service. No, I wasn't in legal trouble -- that's just the amount of volunteer work required of any graduate of Portland's Jesuit High School. You couldn't even pay off the priests to get out of this one.

So shortly after completing my junior year, I shipped off to the Oregon Coast with my best friend to work for a week at Camp Easter Seals, a summer camp for men and women with severe mental and physical disabilities. I pictured lying under the June sun, dozing under the stars, taking a midnight dip in the ocean.


Those false dreams crashed when I met my campers: six young women bound to their wheelchairs. One had such severe autism that even the loudest of noises wouldn't distract her from her world. All wore diapers. One or another would wake up crying each night, causing a domino effect throughout the entire cabin. Meals took twice as long as usual. Swimming was nearly impossible.

Yet I still think of that week as one of the best weeks of my life. In that week I received one of the most valuable educations I can think of: a lesson in life.

At places like Camp Easter Seals, people are imprisoned in their wheelchairs. Sometimes little boys are born blind; sometimes little girls grow old alongside their caretakers and nurses. Some of them will never even learn their own names.

But what I learned after that week was that while my tears over their misery, my condolences to their parents and my worries for their futures would do nothing for their well-being, my love could do wonders. Everyone who volunteers has a moment when they know they will donate their time for the rest of their lives; that realization was my moment.

And it's moments like those that inspired us to concentrate on volunteering in this year's Philanthropy issue. In the past, we've used this issue to tell you about all the places in town that are helping those in need; this year, we thought we'd actually go help them. What follows are three personal accounts of what it's like to volunteer around Spokane, and one story about Bob Reimer, a man who we like to call a "super volunteer." Hopefully, after you read these stories and check out the paid listings that follow, you'll find a cause you want to devote your own time to.

Every time that I volunteer, I remember when I got teary as our boat pulled away from Camp Easter Seals. I knew then that I would never see these people again -- those beautiful people who had trusted a stupid young girl from the suburbs with their lives for a whole week. They taught me something that no graduation check could ever buy.

For more of our philanthropy coverage see our & lt;a href="" & Arts and Culture section online & lt;/a & .

Vandal Summer Cinema Series

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