Upon starting my relationship with ESP, I knew very little about the organization. What I did know: ESP is a place of love. It’s full of loving people who have a passion to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. Many of my friends spend hours a week volunteering with ESP; not because they have to, but because of their love for these individuals and the love they felt in return. On top of this incredible sense of ESP community that I had heard so much about, I had also been told about a magical experience called Big Hearts. While not very telling in name, I have come to learn so much about what Big Hearts means to Extra Special People.
Over the last six months, I have discovered that Big Hearts sets the beat (or heartbeat, I guess I could say) for many of the happenings here at ESP. When I walked into the first Thursday of 360 this fall, I was instantly overwhelmed with excitement for Big Hearts: a little girl thrilled to be dancing on stage for the first time, a young man already planning his solo for his 5th Big Hearts. First timer or seasoned veteran, ESP’s participants spend the year looking forward to their special moment when the focus is solely on their talents and abilities. Since that first day of 360, through many Big Hearts after school classes and Sunday practices where we cram 70 participants, their buddies and support staff into the building, I have seen nothing but anticipation and excitement.
For our participants, it is an opportunity to get to stand on the largest stage in Athens, in front of family, friends, celebrity guests and a sold out crowd sharing their enthusiasm and love. For our parents, it is a chance to see their children bravely share their talents and perform while having an absolute blast. For the community, it is a small moment in which they can capture what ESP works for and how they can get involved in this family. And for Extra Special People, it is a chance to share our mission; to thrive on our abilities rather than disabilities.
I could not think of a better theme or time for this year’s Big Hearts to be set. Big Hearts, Be Loved falls on Valentine’s day weekend. An organization that embodies love sharing that love with its community on the most loving weekend of the year. It is a perfect opportunity to open up your heart to some of the most big-hearted individuals I have ever met. Through opening up your heart and attending the Big Hearts Pageant, not only will you leave with a smile, but you will leave knowing that your $15 ticket was able to provide snacks to a participant for a full month of 360. You will be able to step out in the community feeling like a piece of something larger than yourself. You will witness the friendships and bonds that are created at 360, Summer Camp and weekend outings. And you will join a support group so large and immense you will be left speechless.
One of my favorite aspects of the Big Hearts, Be Loved theme this year is the #SigningMyLove social media campaign that we invite everyone to be a part of. To show your support for the participants of Big Hearts and ESP, sign your love to them and post a picture of yourself like mine!
I am truly thankful that I have gotten the chance to experience the love of Extra Special People and Big Hearts over the past few months and many late nights to come. It is very comforting to know that I have a new extended family and support group that I can lean on and that leans on me. We invite you to join this family through #SigningYourLove and attending Big Hearts.