In 1996, Steve LoDestro, on behalf of the local State Farm Insurance office, made a call to Mercy Home. That call has changed many lives. In looking for volunteer opportunities, LoDestro took a giant step as he and his co-workers adopted Kevin Keating Residence, where 20 young men with developmental disabilities live. This step brought the volunteers into the world of people with autism and significant intellectual delays. His goal was to invite his co-workers, friends and family to meet the young men at the residence and develop activities that would include them in the community. His only criterion for volunteers was openness to new experiences and a compassionate heart.
"Those of us at mercy home got that and so much more," states Sister Caroline Tweedy, Director of Development, "were they a bit apprehensive? Absolutely! But they tried and succeeded beyond our expectations—and maybe beyond theirs as well."
LoDestro, co-workers and his wife have learned to communicate with the young men, most of who cannot speak. They have learned that the language of love and caring breaks down barriers and that high fives, smiles and gestures can convey what is in a person's heart. The volunteers have truly made a difference in the lives of the young men at Keating Residence by hosting holiday parties, helping the guys to get "down and dirty" during community clean-up activities and by just being good friends.
The activities have been varied. State Farm volunteers and the boys raked leaves together and then had parties after the afternoon's work. Halloween Fright Night was a time for costumes, party bags and games. When LoDestro found out that some of the young men didn't spend the holidays with their families, State Farm came to their aid, throwing a holiday party complete with Santa and special gifts for each young man.
Additionally, Mercy Home holds an annual Family Spirit Day, where all of the group homes come together with staff and families. LoDestro arranges for the Good Neighbor Bear (State Farm's mascot) to make special appearances. Armed with an instant camera, he captures instant shots of the volunteers and their special buddies, which become lasting memories for each person. Volunteers then join with families and friends to run specially designed activity booths for the day.
"From one simple phone call wonderful experiences have been created both for Mercy Homes and for State Farm volunteer," states Sister Tweety on the importance of LoDestro's service.