Sunday, October 13, 2002

The field trip


'One of the best days of my life'

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This would be a business story, except nobody made any money. Maybe it could qualify as a kind of good news story. But it's not news.

Human interest? Well, I hesitate to use that term these days, as humans seem to be interested in a peculiar variety of things, ranging from Britney's navel to Hannibal Lecter's all-protein diet.

So I'm not sure what category this falls into. Neither is Kathy Mitchell. All she knows is that something wonderful happened, and she thinks people ought to know about it. Plus she's a teacher and thinks there might be a lesson buried in here somewhere.

About a week ago, Kathy took her class on a field trip. Again, this is not news, except her students don't usually get to take field trips. Too complicated. Some of the kids are in wheelchairs. One child is blind. Another little girl travels with an oxygen tank. All eight children are what is carefully called “challenged.”

It's a challenge all right. Some are challenged just to put one foot after another. Some have amazing and wonderful thoughts and are challenged to get somebody to understand what they are saying. They are challenged by curbs and doorways and steps. And it must be very challenging to watch the rest of the world just casually skateboard and run and dance through life.

A very big deal

So maybe this doesn't seem like such a big deal to those who are not routinely challenged, but this teacher arranged for her students — ages 7, 8 and 9 — to attend Benken Florist's Fall Festival.

“We didn't know how much the kids could do,” says general manager Tim Clark, who was uneasy at first. Then on Oct. 4, a big yellow bus from Roselawn Condon School pulled up in the parking lot and Tim and his staff watched the kids getting off. Struggling down the steps. Using the lift.

“That was the moment,” Tim says. He clears his throat. “We decided to try to do more than anybody thought we could.”

The “staff,” mostly the Benken family, lifted the children onto a hay wagon. They chugged through a woods, around a lake, past some horses in a field. “This was the first time some of my kids had seen these things in real life,” Kathy says.

When they got back, each child picked out a pumpkin. And they were choosey. The staff scrambled through a mountain of orange globes to do their bidding.

Joyfully.

Kathy handed Tim an envelope with the $2 fee for each child. No thanks, he said. He'd have felt a little silly, he says, accepting money for “one of the best days of my life.”

Here is Kathy's favorite part of the day:

“The staff just jumped right in and treated them like the great little kids they are,” Kathy says. “Not like disabled children, which is how most of the world sees them.”

I guess a lot of companies, hammered by the economy, can't be as generous as they once were. Regular people feel pretty much the same way. But we can still do things for each other that money can't buy if we look for, as Tim says, “the moment.”

We could think of it as a challenge.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.



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