Teen with Down syndrome volunteers to support cancer patients and their families

Lucy Edmond’s warm smile greets visitors to the café at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow.  The Evening Times reports that the 19-year-old has been a volunteer at the café for years.  Not only is the experience beneficial to the patients and their families, the volunteer hours also help to prepare Lucy, who has Down syndrome, for a career in catering.

Lucy has been recognized by the head of the organization for her “outstanding commitment.”  Every Thursday afternoon, Lucy is at the café, brewing tea and coffee for customers, cleaning tables, and restocking.  Recently, she has also learned more complex skills like working the cash register.

These are all skills, Lucy’s mom Florence says, will be invaluable for Lucy’s future.  Lucy is currently studying catering at City of Glasgow College and Glasgow Clyde College, but she will not finish with a degree.  To compensate for this, Florence says, “[S]he needs to have as much experience as she can,” adding, “It’s really essential that she gets as much professional experience as possible.”

Lucy’s family heard about the volunteer opportunity through friends and jumped at the chance.  At the time, Lucy was volunteering for the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre, and she wanted to further develop her skills.  Florence explained, “It was all very straightforward. We explained what volunteering Lucy was already doing, we came in for a chat and they gave us her shifts and she started.”

The customers are not the only ones who benefit from Lucy’s work; Lucy finds great satisfaction in meeting all the people who come in and gaining new skills in the culinary industry.  Her mother explained, “It gives her such confidence. I was doing her CV and I was able to put all these things down, saying she was doing this and that – it is so important.”

Florence, who lost her job, was inspired to start volunteering with Lucy at the Beatson, and the mother-daughter-duo spend their Thursdays working together.  Lucy told the Evening Times, “I love my job here on a Thursday.  I work clearing the tables, stacking up drinks, sugar and bottled water.  I like talking to the people – I talk to them and make conversation.” She added, “My only problem was the hot water for the tea was too high up for me to reach it but then we came up with a way to work around it.”

In addition to many professional skills, Lucy has gained friends through her experiences.  She said, “John is my favourite thing about working here. He is my pal. I high-five him when I come in and he shows me how to do everything, like put things in the right bins.”

Because of her experience in two different volunteer positions, Lucy was able to begin work at a Glasgow restaurant and move closer toward her ultimate goal of a career in the food industry.  Her volunteer experience was instrumental in securing a paid position. Her mother explained, “Thanks to her experience we are able to say she’s working at the Beatson Cafe and it’s a door opener.  My personal aim is that Lucy will get a job in the customer service industry when she has experience.” For now, Lucy enjoys using her earnings to buy treats and has grown in confidence with her accomplishments.

The volunteer manager for the Beatson, Marilyn Hosie, told media that the café has more than 40 volunteers who ensure that hospitality is available to patients and their families all day, Monday through Friday.  Anyone who has faced a cancer diagnosis knows that seeking treatment can be frightening and anxiety-inducing. Having a friendly group of volunteers to warmly welcome patients and their loved ones can make a huge difference in their experience.  Hosie said, “We have a really beautiful mix of people. We are looking for people with kindness and compassion to offer and you don’t have to be from any specific background to offer that.” Reflecting on the work the café does for patients, she said, “Something special happens in here every single day and Lucy is a big part of that.”  

Lucy’s story demonstrates the obstacles that many young people with Down syndrome face in pursuing job placement.  While many people focus on the disability sometimes associated with Down syndrome, many people ignore the extraordinary abilities of individuals with Down syndrome.  Many people with Down syndrome, like Lucy, have strong interpersonal skills and inspire warmth and happiness in the people around them. This characteristic inspired one family of a young woman with Down syndrome to call the extra chromosome associated with the condition the “Love Chromosome.” 

Many other families have found alternative means of nurturing the talents and long-term career options of people with Down syndrome.  People like YulissaCollette, and Oliver show that life with Down syndrome is not limited by the condition and that every person has unique gifts to share with the world.

Share this story to combat the lie that every child with Down syndrome should be killed in the womb.  All Life is precious, and every child deserves a chance.