Every Wednesday night, BYU-Idaho students can meet and help members of the Rexburg community with special needs or, as they preferred to be called, “our friends,” with art projects that will be displayed in a gallery at the end of each semester.
Julie Lestarge, a junior studying special education, said BYU-I students pair up with a friend or two and help them with whatever they need when they make the art projects.
“It’s cool to help them but also see what they can do by themselves,” Lestarge said.
Rebecca Swanson, a sophomore studying special education, is one of the managers this semester.
“It’s for everyone who’s involved,” Swanson said. “For me personally, I love being with our friends. You can feel the love from them.”
Swanson said there is a friend named Cristy who always brings jewelry to their other friend, Gina. Swanson said Gina comes wearing the jewelry from Cristy, and Cristy has brought jewelry for others, including Swanson.
“Any time you’re involved with our friends with special needs, you always feel a lot of love from them — sincere love,” said Serena Michalsky, a senior studying biochemistry.
Michalsky said there is a strong community of support.
Swanson said there was a Valentine’s Day dance this year for which most of the friends asked fellow friends to be their dates.
“Most of our friends have never been asked on a date, so this dance was very exciting for them,” Swanson said.
She said one of the volunteers asked a friend named Lynette with a plate of cookies.
She said Lynette’s face lit up with a huge smile.
“I feel like I was coming there to help them when, in reality, they are the ones that are kind of helping you to understand that they are just like anyone else,” Lestarge said.
Michalsky said some people are afraid because they do not understand.
“Sometimes, we can get uncomfortable because we aren’t used to it,” Michalsky said.
Swanson said helping her friends made her realize the purpose of her major.
“I feel like we are so blessed just to be around them because they carry special spirits and they kind of help you gain a better perspective of life,” Michalsky said.
Michalsky has a brother with special needs, so she sees these volunteer opportunities as a way to give back to those who helped her brother.
“I see it as an opportunity to interact with our friends with special needs and treat them like people as well,” Lestarge said.
Swanson said all students are invited to participate and interact with her friends.
“There’s no way not to be happy if you come and actually focus on our friends,” Swanson said. “They always put a smile on your face. They always make you so happy.”
Michalsky said the activities were a way to de-stress from the week.
“For people who are super busy, they can come, and it can be a relief from the week,” Swanson said. “Life can be crazy, but you come and you just feel that they love you.”
Michalsky said their friends always have so much love for everyone.
Hands meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Gordon B. Hinckley Building 271, according to the BYU-I Student Activities Web page.
“Even if you’re busy, I think that it’s a great thing because you’re serving other people and you’re getting to know other people who really will love you no matter what,” Swanson said.