When Lincoln Park resident Dennis Shea retired from a lengthy career in sales and management with Hershey Foods, he knew he needed more than golf clubs to get him through his retirement years. He needed to do something that mattered.
Shea had volunteered with local nonprofits and had been in leadership positions on boards, but was interested in working one-on-one with people.
He researched nonprofits in the area and joined Aspire, an innovative nonprofit that is redefining what is possible for people with disabilities, where he has been volunteering for 3.5 years.
“Retirement gave me a new freedom with time to do whatever I wanted,” said Shea, who volunteers at Aspire’s Community Employment Services (CES) site located in Bellwood. “But I felt an overwhelming sense that I wanted to do something to make a difference with individuals.”
One look at the faces of the participants at Aspire with whom he works with on Thursday mornings, and it’s clear that Dennis is right where he belongs. Shea spends his time working with adults with disabilities (such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy) who come to Aspire to learn or strengthen career-building skills, social skills, communication, and also enjoy leisure activities.
Shea was inspired by his nephew, who has a disability similar to participants at Aspire. “Folks at Aspire are super nice people. Although they may have disabilities, they are making the most of their lives. They all have goals, from using money to take the bus to learning how to email, and I help them move toward achieving their goals. The best thing that can happen is that they get a job in the community, and I hope that I can help them do that.”
Shea teaches computer and math skills, plays cards and puzzles, gardens, and takes field trips to his wife’s art class to interact with artists. But the highlight each week is just talking.
“Everyone at Aspire is a friend of mine. The best part of my week is talking with them about their interests and passions, like the Cubs.”
Shea gets more out of his volunteering than anyone.
“These folks restore your faith in humanity. What I’ve learned at Aspire is that no matter what disability a person has, people can be successful in their own way.”
Through his volunteering, Shea’s learned a lot about connecting with people with disabilities. “People often look at someone with disabilities and don’t see the person. My work here has really made me more comfortable so that I don’t see the disability anymore, I see the person. And I’m very grateful to my friends at Aspire for helping me achieve that comfort level.”
This story was originally featured as part of Meathead’s Cowmunity Spotlight. Each month, Meatheads selects one person in the community who exemplifies the company’s standards of hard work, determination and hustle. The Meatheads Cowmunity Program honors those making a difference in our communities, or “cowmunities” as they call them!
For more information about volunteer opportunities at Aspire, contact Adam Harold, Volunteer Coordinator, at 708.547.3550 x3554 or firstname.lastname@example.org.