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Debra Finley, 22, arrives for her weekly volunteer job at the Joplin Family Y. She is dressed in a cute outfit and has a smile on her face, ready to work her way through 3 large boxes of documents that need to be shredded. She is accompanied by Kerri, her Direct Care Staff from Public Partnerships.
“This is her job, and she loves it,” said her grandmother, Pat Forste, a long-time Y member and beloved Aquacise instructor. “It gives her a sense of pride and purpose to make a positive contribution through work.”
Debra was born 13 weeks premature, and her family was given a bleak outlook for her future. Due to the circumstances of Debra's traumatic birth, she suffered a significant brain hemorrage on both sides of her brain that left doctors with little hope that she would be able to even marginally function in life. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, Debra would face many challenges, but her family was always hopeful for her future. From a very early age, Debra began to prove the doctors wrong.
“Debra has always been a very tenacious and spirited young lady, and she is determined to do things on her own,” said her mother, Gwen Finley. “She tells those around her ‘I do,’ many times a day. It may take her a little longer, or she may not have done it as you would have, but she will get it done.”
The Y focuses on social responsibility as part of its mission. As such, it offers community members the chance to connect with others and realize a sense of belonging through volunteerism.
“It’s really a win-win,” said Kim Gray, Development Director at the Joplin Family Y. “The Y has work that needs to be done. It’s time consuming, and Debra is a tremendous help to us. The added bonus is that she enjoys it; it gives her a sense of purpose and confidence to know how much she is needed, valued and appreciated.”
Debra’s mom says she loves going to work. “She will tell me she has to go to bed because ‘I gotta work,’" said Finley. “After working, she will call family and friends and say ‘I worked.’ Her family goes to work every day, all she wants to do is be like the rest of her family and go to work every day. She feels proud, responsible and, most of all, independent.”