Senior Edition 2018: Features
The Impact She wasn’t Expecting

Article by Anna Muenchen

IMG_5625People say you will never forget your wedding day. She was getting married to a camper at Stepping Stones as a volunteer counselor; it was a fake ceremony but a real union of friendship. She had picked out her outfit and had done her hair on the morning of this so-called wedding. When she arrived at Stepping Stones, prince charming was waiting for his bride to be with a ring pop wedding ring.

Kings Senior Nora Fitzgerald is a volunteer counselor, whose experience at Stepping Stones has allowed her to grow into a more accepting young lady, and figure out what she wants to do the rest of her life.

According to the Stepping Stones website, volunteers, “help people with disabilities find pathways to independence that will improve their lives and enable them to be more fully participating members of their communities.”

This is just what Nora agrees that service is, “giving back to the community and making people feel included.” She says, “This service opened my eyes, I realized I should be more including. It taught me to not look at people’s differences, and not to judge people or hate people based on their looks.”

She’s learned through working with the kids attending the summer camp that “disabled kids are just like everyone else, they just need a little extra help sometimes and they could always use a friend!

Nora is a friend to those she has met through volunteering.

“Day after day these kids bring her joy. Nora sees them as friends. She treats them the same as everyone else,” says her mom, Denise Fitzgerald.

It may be easy for Nora to befriend the campers, but becoming a volunteer isn’t a very easy process. “The training you have to go through before consists of learning what a typical day looks like, how you should act with the kids, what the rules are, and if this were to happen do this [scenarios].” This training is reasonable considering the families that come to Stepping Stones are looking for a place of fun, friends, learning new skills, enjoying the outdoors and sports, and having a caring community they can live in.

“Stepping Stones is compassionate,” says Denise. Which is ironic because that’s the way she describes her daughter as well.

The biggest factor that has contributed to her dedication to service is that “she knows who she is,” says Denise. “She was looking for a place to volunteer and she loves special needs kids so she got hooked!”

Nora’s volunteer opportunity arose when a family friend invited her along. “She told me about it and I said I’d go,” says Nora. Stepping Stones works to create integrated and inclusive programs that encourage family unity. This is how Nora’s family friend started at Stepping Stones, she has a brother with down syndrome who attended the summer camp the year Nora was invited.

It seems pretty fitting that Nora won a book of service, the Mayerson Service-Learning Award, since she has dedicated so much of her time to the community and service. “Volunteering at Stepping Stones showed me patience,” says Nora and she has figured out what she wants to spend the rest of her life doing. “I’m going to Cincinnati State to become an occupational therapy assistant. I want to work with special needs kids.”

Her mom recognizes how hard Nora works, “It’s hard work at Stepping Stones, chasing after kids, cleaning up spills. She works so hard, comes home exhausted, goes right to bed and wakes up in the morning ready to go again and does it all with a smile on her face.”

The advice Nora would give to underclassmen who are starting their service is to, “Find something you’re interested in and continue doing it. Don’t just do it for the hours. At first I did but when I found something I enjoyed, I kept on doing it.”

Nora’s compassion and dedication to her service opportunity has given her over 1,000 volunteer hours but the friendships she has made overrule the graduation requirement. Nora has left her mark on these camper’s hearts, especially the one she got hitched to, even if it was pretend.

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