“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

being certified as a volunteer

Over the past year or so, I have been trying to consistently visit a group home for adult friends with cognitive disabilities in my community. Most Monday nights, I show up with a couple bottles of coke and some kind of snack (ice cream, crackers or whatever) and just hang out with the folks for an hour. We will play a board game, or have a catch with a baseball, or sometimes I will bring my guitar (I have just started to learn to play at my advanced age). The people who run the group home are great! They are wonderful people, and Christians at that.

It was interesting, however, that last night I was asked to be fingerprinted. No rush, or no questions about my motivations or anything, just the protocol of the group home's certifying body. I mean it is no problem for me to get fingerprinted, and I will get it done right away, but as with a lot of procedural things, it caused me to pause a bit.

On the one hand, I am happy that those who oversee the lives of persons with disabilities are cognizant of the potential of abuse by people in the community. I am confident that there have been those who have abused the trust given to them and have done evil things to vulnerable people. On the other hand, however, it bothered me that to be a friend who is involved in the life of a person with mental retardation, I can't just be a friend. I have to be "certified" by an agency as a "volunteer." Maybe I should be honored that I have spent sufficient time to be designated as a volunteer. I guess I will now be an official volunteer. At the same time, it concerns me that I cannot have a relationship with people who I see as friends without some form of government regulation, even if it is a simple fingerprinting. What does this imply?

Does it imply that someone who wants to be the friend of an adult with
severe mental retardation is so unusual that they are suspect?
Must the lives of adults with severe mental retardation be so regulated
that friends from the community must be fingerprinted to be their friends?
What would I think as a resident of the group home if I understood that
fingerprinting was a requirement for long term friendship and interaction with

These and other questions flooded my mind as I thought about the request.

As I said, I will happily be fingerprinted and will continue to visit my friends at the home. But I feel almost like I have been sullied or dirtied by the state. I am no longer just a friend who visits friends who live at a particular address. I will now be listed somewhere as a certified volunteer, who has been fingerprinted and that upsets me. I refuse to allow the process to change my relationship with my friends, but the state has changed me from a friend to a volunteer and I am not happy about that.

When a "volunteer" visits persons with disabilities, it implies a distance from the residents that is not felt and nor wanted. I understand the why of the process. But it is important to recognize that it takes the natural, people and their friends enjoying being together, and regulates it.

Without concentrated effort regulation cannot help but change relationships in some way. There is research that actually indicates that when the state gets involved in the natural, the natural either is changed or dies. The natural hardly ever remains the same.


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