Each month, Central Penn Parent features a child who is doing great things. They pitch in to make a difference in their schools, places of worship and throughout their communities. They are a blessing to those around them—yet their efforts often go unrecognized. We want to thank them for a job well done! Each child receives a cape and a prize package from our sponsors.
Palmyra teen’s gift for helping starts at home
Even from an early age, it was clear that Mary Parker had a knack for helping those with special needs.
Mary, 13, got her first experience with it right at home. Three of her four siblings were born with Fragile X syndrome, a form of autism. And right from the get-go, she was there to help out with anything they might need.
It started when she was 6 years old and her older brother and sister were participating in Special Olympics. What began with a bit of a nudge from her parents, Deborah and William Parker, turned into what has now become a passion for Mary.
Debroah said that Mary’s first time helping the athletes at the Special Olympics was just the start.
“Over the next year or two, it evolved into her just going and doing her own thing whenever we would go to the Special Olympics,” Deborah said. “Since the family was already participating, it just made sense.
“She got it. She didn’t need extra training, she just got it. It really wasn’t anything different to her.”
To this day, Mary, who lives in Palmyra and attends St. Joan of Arc School in Hershey, continues to “do what she loves,” something that she says is a motto she lives by.
Helping out with the Special Olympics is her passion, but she also volunteers with several other organizations—her church’s special needs religious education program, the Big 33 buddy program and her mother’s organization “Champions for Children” just to name a few.
“It brings me a lot of joy to be able to help out,” Mary said. “Since I started helping with the Special Olympics I decided that if I enjoyed doing it so much, then I should just keep doing it.”
What might be the most rewarding aspect of her work, though, is the reaction Mary gets from her friends and faculty at school.
“She’s always going above and beyond to help at each activity she’s involved in,” said Eileen McGowan, principal of St. Joan of Arc School. “She is always encouraging and the special needs athletes flock to her each time she’s with them.”
When she tells her friends of her latest outing, not only are they all ears, but they often make sure she includes them on her next activity.
“They get motivated by some of the things I tell them I do,” Mary said. “A lot of my friends are always asking me to invite them the next time I go.”
Between being an honor roll student, field hockey (Mary’s favorite sport) and all her volunteering, it might seem like it could be difficult for Mary to balance everything else that comes with being a teenager.
But as Deborah put it, “She’s just one of those kids that gets it done.”
And even seven years after her first trip to the Special Olympics, it all stems from her life at home—one Mary wouldn’t trade for anything.
“Her volunteerism lends itself our family dynamics,” Deborah said. “Mary’s always gone above and beyond in those situations on her own. She will go out and help everybody. She’s always been a type of leader on her own.”
In the future, Mary wants to be a special education/early childhood teacher where she can continue to help those with special needs. Which only makes sense.
After all, helping others is what she loves to do.
“It’s rewarding because I was able to become a part of all this because of my family,” Mary said. “Even if it’s not my brothers or sister, if I’m helping another person, it’s still rewarding and brings the same joy.
“I want to just keep doing that.”
Christopher Hopkins is the assistant editor/web for Central Penn Parent.