Monday, June 15, 2009

The real story of SOFTIN is stories of people we serve

The real story of SOFTIN is about the changes we bring about in the special-needs people we serve. SOO many have tugged at my heartstrings, but here is a story that has played out similarly many times over, yet always subtly differently because people are all individuals.

Little Stella is an autistic child of six, who came aboard the WaveWalker on a SOFTIN trip, accompanied by her Mom. Stella was having a tough time developing a comfort level with the new experience. She came aboard timid, withdrawn with arms folded and making no eye contact with anyone. She was shaking her head, murmering to herself and periodically asking Mom to take her home. Mom held her, comforted her and quietly insisted she try this for a little while.

As the excursion began, the SOFTIN crew of Ramona Lisa and Capt. Tiffany talked with her and the other passengers about the different kind of boats in the harbor and what each kind of boat is used for. They played color games by pickiing out certain colors. Next they played shapes games. Then everyone picked out boat names they liked. We cruised the harbor and looked at Coast Guard vessels, Harbor Patrol boats, research vessels and others.

We pointed out the critters of the waterfront... harbor seals, night herons, seagulls, cormorants and pelicans. We told the story of Bentwing, the disabled (from birth) brown pelican who made his disability his strength, became a useful member of the waterfront community and likes himself just the way he is. We found Bentwing that day and Stella fed him a fish. Stella and Bentwing liked each other very much.

Next we visited California sea lions hauled out on a buoy outside the harbor. Stella yelled and waved at them and made sounds like they made. We tried a little fishing nearby and Stella caught her first fish. We taught her about it, how it lives and how important clean water is to that fish. Stella learned to thank the fish for the wiggle and let it go.

On the cruise back into the harbor. Stella was excited, animated and talked to everyone aboard about how much fun it was to catch a fish, to feed a pelican and to name all the seagulls.

Back at the dock, Mom expressed her amazement at Stella's progress in just a few hours. Mom appreciated our work so much that she volunteered to help SOFTIN any way she could. We can always use good help. As for Stella... she had a stellar day and didn't want to leave the boat because she had found something to love doing and had made an emotional connection with the critters of the sea. She hugged each of us and loudly proclaimed she wanted to go again. Mom had to pick her up and carry her to get her to leave. Watching them walk up the ramp to go home, with Stella waving at us, all of us were wiping tears from our own cheeks. How could we not?

Capt. David Bacon
Executive Director

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