The farewell poster that was made for me by the members of Zack's Place is still hanging on my bedroom wall. This alone, I feel, is a testimony to just how touched I was by my summer at Zack's Place. To identify Zack's Place as an enrichment center for people with special needs is to simply skim the surface of just how incredible this place is. Of course, the range of programs and activities that fill the schedule each day demonstrate the ample opportunities that are provided by Zack's Place. We could have gone horseback riding, swimming and gardening, visited the farmer's market, prepared homemade ice cream, and relaxed with some yoga, all in a single week. But even with all these remarkable activities, it was the simple moments that truly captured the essence of Zack's Place for me. It was the continuous hospitality, the ceaseless inspiration, and the abundance of talent; it was the feeling that every single person belonged. The gifts and creativity of all the participants were always appreciated and celebrated. The moment I walked through those doors every morning, I knew I was going to be welcomed by a "good morning!" and a smiling face. Smiles were never absent in Zack's Place. Even on the rainiest days, there were works of art being created in the art room and people dancing around to music. On occasion, I would step back for a moment and just take in all the laughter and smiles, and that's when I understood what makes Zack's Place so special.
I will never forget the day we went to Moonrise Farm for horseback riding, which I can now confidently say was one of the most inspirational experiences for me that summer. As each participant got up on his or her horse, they sat a little bit taller. It was breathtaking to watch their eyes fill with confidence and enthusiasm as they strolled around the ring. Their smiles conveyed such a sense of ease and relaxation, and it was as though every hint of tension just vanished from their limbs. I had never seen anything like it before. And as I stood outside the fence, I realized that this was the very spirit of Zack's Place. These were the moments and experiences that Zack's Place provides for all the participants. This was the self-confidence and sense of accomplishment it bestows in all of its members. And to be involved in such a program, to any extent, is profoundly memorable and priceless.
On my last day at Zack's Place that summer, all the members of Zack's Place sang me a song and gave me a signed poster and card, both of which, as I mentioned before, still hang in my room. As I listened to them sing and read through all their notes and comments, I did all I could to keep from crying. Zack's Place not only provided me with memories that I will treasure forever, but it helped me to discover new passions and a new side of myself that I hadn't known existed. Just as Zack's Place fosters confidence among all its participants, it allowed me to personally gain more confidence in working with people with special needs. I came to recognize the talents, sensitivity, compassion, and creativity of every single participant. It was refreshing and heartening to feel as though what I was doing was purposeful, that not only was it hopefully meaningful to the participants, but that it was unquestionably touching for me. If nothing else, Zack's Place became a place where I felt endlessly accepted and welcomed, a place where I can visit at any point and know I will be embraced by the same smiles and caring atmosphere that I experienced the first moment I walked through those doors last July.