Students filled the rooms with only a few seats left in every special needs activity during BYU-Idaho’s I-Serve service projects the week of Oct. 12-15.
I-Serve encompasses many service programs, and one of its bigger programs is the special needs program. I-Serve invites those with special needs from the surrounding areas, as far as Idaho Falls, to participate in activities together every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with students.
Mondays are institute classes where special needs friends and students gather to hear and participate in a lesson about the Gospel.
Students and special needs friends gathered for a lesson on prayer at the institute class. The class started out with a song and opening prayer.
After a few introductions, Stencil and Amber Davidson, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies, led the class in a lesson on prayer.
People volunteered to read assigned scriptures about prayer. After reading a set of scriptures, a question would follow requiring them to ponder on what they had read.
Many took turns sharing personal testimonies of how prayer has blessed their lives. The night ended with a heartfelt testimony from Davidson, and a closing prayer.
Davidson reflected on the special moments that can happen at these institute classes.
“The day after general conference, one of our friends brought all of his thoughts from the general conference and asked to come to the front to share it with the group,” Davidson said. “People could feel the love and that they could do the same thing. When we express those things it helps us feel that love from God.”
Wednesdays are arts and crafts activities, also known as hands.
Autumn Lulla, a senior studying therapeutic recreation, and a coordinator for the special needs activities, welcomed her special needs friends with smiles and elbow bumps.
The activity involved drawing, as students and special needs friends drew their own mask selfies. The “selfie” included eyes peeping out above a unique colorful mask.
Then after pulling down the mask, there was an assortment of different expressions on the faces, many smiled. Some had drawn different words around the smiling face, or an array of colors displayed on the masks.
Music played in the background while they drew. At one point One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” came on which led to dancing and hair-flipping between a couple of friends.
Lulla explains the atmosphere at these activities.
“We would take time at the beginning of our activities to sing church songs,” said Lulla. “And one day one of our friends lead the song and she was just beaming. I felt her excitement and I felt so much love coming from her. You could just see she was thinking, ‘I can do this. I am conducting everyone.‘ Everyone knew that she loved it which in turn just made them so happy.”
Thursdays are life skills. Life skills include a variety of activities, most of which include games.
The room was full of cheering, clapping and dancing. Students and the special needs community gathered to tackle some Minute to Win It games.
As students attempted to slide an Oreo from their forehead into their mouth, or speed stack cups and then disassemble them before the opponent, their teammates were clapping and cheering them on.
“The most special part is seeing the friendships being made,” Lulla said.
With a closing prayer and goodbyes, the special needs activities finished their last activity until next Monday.
Ethan Stencil, a senior studying recreation management and an institute teacher explained why it’s important to bring their special needs friends to campus.
“We are all people,” Stencil said. “Our friends are no exception to that. They love doing these things too.”
Ellie Laws, a sophomore studying elementary education, explained there is a boost of joy these service activities bring to people’s lives, especially during the pandemic.
President Thomas S. Monson explained this joy comes from serving others when he said, “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves.”