Who would have thought that a trip to the zoo and the sight of animals would have triggered a remarkable breakthrough with Joseph, a six-year-old little boy with severe disabilities?
But that is exactly what happened the day Joseph attended a memorable LifeBridge Partnership youth recreational activity.
To understand this breakthrough, however, a few more details about Joseph are in order. Joseph came to the LifeBridge as a shy, apprehensive boy. Being non-verbal, he confined his communication to pointing and gesturing, when he communicated at all.
For the first several months of his involvement, Joseph only participated in our after-school program. With time, however, he began attending our youth activities. That’s when things began to change. It was during one of his first youth activities that Joseph visited the St. Louis Zoo with LifeBridge staff, volunteers and other youth clients.
No one at the LifeBridge had ever seen Joseph get excited about anything –that is until he visited the zoo. Heather, our Youth Coordinator, looked over at Joseph taking in the presence of all those animals, and found him laughing and jumping up and down to express his sheer joy.
Tears welled up in Heather’s eyes as she raced over to hug Joseph. “Joseph, you are so excited! You love animals,” was all Heather could say.
Since then Heather has made sure that whatever activity or after-school program Joseph attends includes something that’s animal-related –whether it’s coloring a picture of an animal, watching an animal-related video or visiting real, live animals.
Joseph, who is now about nine years old, is a completely different little guy. Everything seems to make him smile, and he is eager to run over give Heather and other staff members a hug. It truly is hard to believe that this happy boy who is so engaged in everything he does is the same little shy guy who became a client three years ago.
It’s easy to attribute this breakthrough to an accidental discover of something that no one knew fascinated Joseph. But leveraging that delight in seeing and being with animals into a breakthrough with Joseph was only possible because the LifeBridge put Joseph in proximity with those animals and Heather had the ability to recognize the importance of the transformational moment and use it to the fullest for the benefit of Joseph.
Note: The preceding story is true. The name of the client has been changed to protect his privacy.