The best lessons come from the least likely places

This past week I was asked to speak at a Life Skills class at Appleton East High School. The class was made up of students with cognitive disabilities paired with students as mentors who may or may not have interest in a related health care field.

It was heartwarming to watch the students work together. From a young man with severe autism to a beautiful young lady with cerebral palsy who was unable to speak, these students connected in ways that I certainly wish we all could in our every day lives.

The exercise of the day was “grateful turkeys”. Each feather of the turkey represented something they were thankful for. For both the disabled student and their mentor, the simple joys were the best joys, with their loved ones and their homes being the common theme for what each was grateful for.

My role for the day was to observe the class and then talk about being a leader. Being honest, I wondered how I could share this message with young men and women who had these unique challenges they faced every day. I think the lesson here ended up being all mine. I had my list prepared, but these students did the demonstrating.

Always say please and thank you.

  • As challenging as it was for some of these students both in doing the exercise and for some keeping attention on the project at hand, they were very kind and loving to each other. When I hear that our young people lack patience, I will remember these students and how they demonstrated patience in abundance.

Send notes.

  • Much like the “grateful turkeys”, letting people know you are grateful for their time, consideration, love or help is so easy, yet we all fall short in remembering to take time for such a simple act. With it being the holiday season, now would be the perfect time for each of us to do our own “grateful turkey”.

Remember how precious life is.

  • Why is it that we underappreciate how beautiful our life is until we hear or see someone who has many more challenges than we encounter on a daily basis? These young men and women who were in this class loved life, despite the fact that it is twice as hard for them to do the same thing their mentor was doing. I was humbled by their sincere appreciation and happiness.

Find someone who supports you – a good mentor.

  • You can ask anyone who is considered a good leader and they will confirm that somewhere along their journey they had a special someone who believed in them and helped them. This class was the ultimate demonstration of mentorship. The level of connection they had with their partners was really something very special to observe. I was truly in awe.

Be open-minded.

  • Let’s face it, not everyone would be comfortable in this class. What amazed me is how open-minded these students were to trying new things and obviously new ways to do what we easily take for granted. Leaders need to be open-minded also. Say yes more than no.

Exhibit self-confidence.

  • Self-confidence comes in many forms, I now know that. Putting the best you forward, every day, is what I observed. They tried and many times failed in this class. It was ok, they just simply tried again. If only we could be comfortable and truly live, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

Make a difference in this world.

  • This world we live in needs people who will make a difference. We are blessed with a community of people who do just that. I now feel very blessed to have observed the next generation of future leaders who will carry making a difference forward.

It takes a team effort.

  • No one is successful all by themselves. It takes a team of people to make things happen and hit the goal. For one young man, simply getting down the stairs was a team effort and you know what? Together they won – the smile on his face is one I will never forget.

My heart is full. I am so proud to have been a part of this program and I so appreciate the teachers (the two Amy’s) for the time and ability to share with their class. My challenge to each of you is to take this time to count our blessings, be grateful and kind to one another. I am certain these students would love us to pay it forward.

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