Paige Kehrli, a Cathedral School third grader, went through the Providence phenomenon.
She felt one way before vis iting the youths with disabilities at Providence Center for Medically Fragile Children and felt another way after.
“Before I went to Providence, I was uncomfortable, scared, shy — like I didn’t know what to expect,” Paige said during a spring gathering of Catholic school volunteers and residents. “Now I am way more excited, happy and glad to go.”
Paige captured the sentiment of about 250 Catholic school students who come regularly to the Northeast Portland facility. Schools taking part in the Friend to Friend program are All Saints, Archbishop Howard, Cathedral, Holy Cross, St. Agatha, St. Clare and St. Ignatius.
The whole volunteer corps convened with the 58 residents on a sunny day to celebrate the year of playing games, listening to music, chatting and holding hands.
“Providence is the single most amazing place ever. I have so many new friends,” said Timmy Crimmins, a fourth grader at St. Clare School.
Hannah Volker, a seventh grader at St. Ignatius, says the monthly trip puts smiles on her face her classmates’ faces. “Our friends are the same as us,” Volker said.
Here is how Belana Winbourne of Holy Cross School summed it up: “Providence has helped me see the world through someone else’s eyes.”
The mother of a Providence resident thanked the students for coming so faithfully. “Whether or not you know it, you have changed lives,” said Corine Seuss.
“We celebrate your great spirit of friendship, of love, of caring, of acceptance,” Kelly Schmidt, pastoral care chief at the center, told the students.
Dorothy Coughlin, director of the Archdiocese of Portland Office for People with Disabilities, held a hand up toward the sunshine and told the crowd that God is probably smiling because of all the friendships that have begun because of the visits. During a prayer, Father Peter Smith, the new vicar general of the archdiocese, thanked the center for helping students learn what they can do to make a difference.
“Thank you for the many ways you have learned to love one another this year,” Father Smith said.
After speeches and a prayer, a parade around the plaza ensued, with residents ringing bells and streamers and banners flowing in the wind.
About 3,200 Catholic school children have participated in the program. They go through a training program in September, learning how to communicate with friends who are non-verbal and how to adapt play.
They explore the ways they are alike and different from residents. One class came up with 87 ways they are like residents of Providence and only nine ways they are different. Students learn how to position themselves so that they are eye-to-eye with their friends and learn how to do things with their friends rather than for them.
Visitors always begin by gathering in the chapel to prepare for being with their friends.