WEBSTER — Thanks to Kayla Chapman, developmentally disabled people are experiencing the pleasures of horseback riding.
Thanks to Lauren Lincoln, folks with developmental disabilities have proudly formed their own color-guard unit.
And thanks to Halyna Tarnawskyj and Stacy King, visually impaired youths know the joys of mainstream activities.
A remarkable quartet of young women from St. Rita’s Parish in Webster have dedicated many hours of their high-school lives to bettering the lives of people with disabilities. They were among the parish’s recipients of diocesan Hands of Christ awards, given in the fall of 2004 to high-school seniors for outstanding service. All are recent graduates — Kayla from Webster Thomas; Lauren from East Irondequoit Eastridge; Halyna from Webster Schroeder; and Stacy from Bishop Kearney.
Childhood friends Halyna, 18, and Stacy, 18, have paired up the past few summers as volunteers for Camp Smile, a Webster Lions Club-sponsored camp that provides activities for blind and visually impaired young people. As part of their training, Halyna and Stacy wore goggles to simulate the effects of having severely decreased sight, making them better appreciate what campers are forced to endure. Halyna and Stacy have helped these people enjoy common activities, such as learning crafts and taking trips to enjoy bowling, miniature golf and amusement-park rides.
“They get to explore different things where people would usually limit them,” Halyna said, noting that at Sea Breeze Amusement Park, “they get to go in the water park and feel the water. They love it.”
“I love working with people, talking and laughing,” Stacy said. “I like when I see them laugh. We’re affecting their lives, making them feel better.”
“I’ve always had a passion for working with kids,” Halyna added. “If they’re enjoying it, it’s a lot of fun for us too — we forget that they’re even disabled.”
Lauren’s inspiration for volunteerism began a couple of years back, when she was performing in Dayton, Ohio, for her high school’s color guard. At the end of that competition, a Special Olympics color guard came on.
“There were thousands of people in the arena, and not one dry eye,” recalled Lauren, 18.
From there, Lauren came home and formed her very own 23-member color guard, a unit that serves as ceremonial escort for the flag by marching and handling rifles and sabers in unison. Lauren acquired her participants through Heritage Christian Services Inc., which serves people with special needs throughout the Rochester area. The unit performs all over upstate New York and, according to Lauren, is the only color guard of its kind in the state.
“It’s been described that we’re bridging the gap. We’re bringing two different worlds together,” she said. Yet there are differences: “When I’m with my normal color guard, it’s all about winning and losing, and who dropped the rifle,” Lauren said, noting that the Heritage color guard is eager to practice and is “just out there having a good time.” In fact, she said, one of her female members was ecstatic simply because she was able to throw her rifle up in the air once and catch it, something that would be routine in a high-school color guard.
It was also through Heritage Christian that Kayla, 17, began introducing folks four years ago to her longtime love of horseback riding. Kayla assists young people with such disabilities as Down syndrome and autism, some of whom use canes and wheelchairs. Kayla strives to get these people over their initial skittishness by letting them touch the horses, then progressing to riding.
“Kids fall in love with them,” she said.
Kayla plans to continue her horseback-riding volunteerism while she attends Monroe Community College this fall to pursue a nursing degree. She said her volunteerism with Heritage Christian and with senior citizens at St. Ann’s Community have exposed her to a wide range of people “in some way experiencing some problem, being mentally or physically handicapped.”
As for Lauren, she’s building her color-guard creativity into a potential lifelong endeavor. Lauren hopes to develop a special color-guard program to extend statewide, using skills acquired through her business studies that will begin in the fall at St. John Fisher College.
Meanwhile, Halyna will attend Duquesne University and Stacy will begin at Daemen College, both in hopes of becoming physician’s assistants. Halyna is looking to get into pediatrics and is thankful for her Camp Smile experience of “working with kids, seeing how much they’re dealing with and what they’re facing.”
Stacy plans to perhaps work in an emergency-room environment, saying that Camp Smile was valuable in this regard because she got to practice helping people out — “relieving whatever tension they’re having, knowing what to say to people and dealing with situations.”