Program offers volunteers and adults with disabilities chance to Come As You Are


Volunteers served dinner to Come As Your Are guests during a year-end picnic on June 4 in Kaposia Park. Though the picnic was marked by rain, lead volunteer Jessica Henry says usually such year-end events have lines out the door. (photos courtesy Neighbors Inc.)

Come As You Are throws events like prom, Halloween and Easter parties, typically with a special guest or two.

Following a rather rainy night, Come As You Are wrapped up another program year on June 4 with a picnic in Kaposia Park.

The group, which is run out of Neighbors Inc., gives adults with developmental disabilities and special needs, as well as their caretakers, an opportunity to socialize and have fun in an inviting and caring atmosphere.

It came about in 1977 when the Dakota Club was renamed Come As You Are, operating as a joint program between Neighbors and First Presbyterian Church in South St. Paul.

Since then, volunteers have been getting as much joy out of the program as the adults partaking it.

Jessica Henry, the program’s lead volunteer, says it’s good place for people to build friendships and relationships in a space where everyone is accepted for who they are. 

 

Providing a service

Henry became involved with the program in her early 20s when she was looking for something to do outside of school with her little brother, who is autistic. Her boyfriend’s grandmother volunteered with Come As You Are and suggested they check it out.

“I slowly started helping and it evolved into leadership,” says Henry. “I love these people.”

Building off existing activites for the adults that included live entertainment, coffee and snacks, Henry introduced other things like a prom, Halloween parties and building gingerbread houses with the aim of keeping everybody active.

“I want them to have fun and interact and do something,” she says.

The program, which meets the first and third Tuesday of every month from September to June, is completely reliant on volunteers. Support for Come As You Are is important, Henry says, as it’s one of the few programs geared toward adults who are disabled or vulnerable, beyond the Special Olympics.

 

Where volunteers never leave

Henry says most people who come to volunteer love the program and don’t leave — just like herself.

“I just think everyone should help people” she says. “I feel like if one person helped one person, the world would be a different place.”

Corrine Mahoney and Marsha Morgan are both longtime volunteers. Mahoney, who has been with the program for some 28 years, became involved through her church.

“I brought the cakes and then I never left,” she says, pointing out she’s stayed so long because it’s a solid program that does a lot of good.

Morgan became involved through her church as well. She says the adults who are part of Come As You Are are always happy, and while numbers have declined since she started volunteering, those who come still love it.

Nicole Rademaker, who has been volunteering for almost a decade, was looking for somewhere to volunteer as part of a New Year’s resolution. She was looking for somewhere close to where she works and discovered the program. 

“Anytime you feel down or don’t want to do something, kind of crabby, you come to this and it changes your attitude, 100%,” says Rademaker.

Volunteers can give as much time as they want, and many chip in through their employers. Those who help make the program go say that for participating adults, the social benefits are immeasurable and they get a huge boost of energy out of the program.

Those interested in getting involved when Come As You Are starts up again in September should go to www.neighborsmn.org/services/caya.

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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