Melissa Corry spends her free time helping “extra special people.”
“The mission of Extra Special People is to be a place where young adults and kids with disabilities can show what they can do as opposed to what they can’t do,” said Corry, an Athens native and UGA student who began working with ESP her senior year in high school.
Extra Special People is an organization where individuals with disabilities can be provided a fun and safe environment to not only survive but also thrive. The organization has age-specific and season-specific activities such as the 360 programs, which are after school programs that offer classes like swimming, yoga, dance, and outdoor education. NKA is a program within Extra Special People that stands for “no kids allowed” and is for individuals ages 15 and up that seek activities such as going to dinner and a movie.
Corry got involved with the organization after actively participating and leading the Special Olympics during her high school career. On a typical day at the organization, Corry is paired up with an individual so that each child gets specific attention. Throughout the day, Corry and the individual will do activities such as arts and crafts, or outdoor activities.
“Melissa focused on the camper’s abilities rather than their disabilities,” said Dani Marchesini, a fellow ESP worker. “Each camper was treated as though he or she did not have any kind of special need. Doing this, Melissa gained respect and love from each of the campers.” Through selflessness and patience, two qualities Marchesini said to be her most admirable traits, Corry is able to kindly communicate to the individuals and treat each child in an appropriate manner.
When working at an organization with individuals that have special needs, it can be difficult to adjust to specific needs. For Corry, this never seems to be a problem, as she acts no different towards the lower functioning campers than she does the higher functioning ones. “If an activity went beyond a camper’s abilities, Melissa would brainstorm ways that would still allow the camper to participate in the craft or activity. One method Melissa used was to instruct a higher functioning camper to assist her in helping a lower functioning camper,” said Marchesini.
Corry devotes her time to helping others at this organization because she said she is fascinated to see the progress that each individual makes over time, specifically when one individual went from being disruptive to being well behaved in one summer.
“Melissa has many roles when paired with our campers. Our participants have a wide array of ability levels and therefore interaction with each is uniquely tailored. With every camper however, Melissa is engaging, enthusiastic, and vigilant about their needs,” said Anna Bennett, ESP’s specialty director. The work that each staff member performs includes everything from teaching social skills and advocating self-help skills to increasing leisure activities and partnering with local community members to provide unique experiences.
Although her work may go unnoticed by others in the community, Corry continues to serve ESP because she believes that it teaches her a lot of patience and that she has grown as a person outside of the organization. ESP has helped Melissa to see things differently and to gain an understanding for the hardships of life. She also has gained a sense of appreciation.
“I think that the most rewarding thing about working with ESP is when you come back to ESP and the children recognize you,” said Corry. “It makes you feel like you’re making a positive impact on their life and it really is such a great feeling.”