Ron Nix has been volunteering with IVC New England for seven years, and has spent the past six years serving at Cotting School. Located in Lexington, Massachusetts, Cotting is a private nonprofit special educational organization that enables students ages 3-22 with a broad spectrum of learning and communication disabilities, physical challenges and complex medical conditions to achieve their highest learning potential and level of independence.
The school provides an array of integrated services for its students, including Project Bridges, a robust vocational program that allows them to engage in community-based volunteer work on site. It is unique and challenging work though which Ron has come to experience great joy! He speaks of always having strived “to connect to Jesus by trying to imitate his works,” but in the course of his work at Cotting, Ron has experienced something even greater: touching Jesus, and experiencing Christ’s grace, through his interactions with the students and staff.
Ron’s primary role is that of a Project Bridges job coach, through which he helps prepare students to one day enter the workforce. He drives students to their job site, assists them as they navigate different work environments, oversees their communication with the host supervisor and staff, and supports them in how to approach the day’s tasks. In the course of this work, Ron looks for that connection with the students that helps both himself and the employers begin to see each student not just as a person who needs help, but as someone capable of making a contribution and helping others in the community.
One day, while assisting a student as they engaged in a cleaning job at the Central Rock Gym in Watertown, Ron discovered that the student liked to lift weights and often did so with his dad. This led to an excited and animated conversation around weight-lifting, which has since opened the door to a deeper relationship where he and the student can joke with each other and “share life” in a meaningful way.
Ron has also contributed by driving and accompanying students and staff on community trips, such as to the Boston Museum of Art, the Public Gardens, and to stores for Christmas shopping. He says it is a joy to see how students’ personalities bloom in different environments. Cotting School’s operational philosophy is that there is nothing a person with a disability can’t do that anyone else can do – they just may need certain modifications or adaptations to succeed. In helping them achieve their goals, no matter how large or small, Ron experiences God, as Pope Francis says, through “a culture of encounter.”
Ron credits Cotting School’s staff, including the administration, with creating the joyful atmosphere that encourages this positive “culture of encounter.” “Every day they show up and pitch in to help,” he explains, “and bring a positive, upbeat attitude to the work.” In an environment where one never knows what to expect day-to-day, teachers, therapists and support staff keep open communication with volunteers, to help them understand what might be going on in students’ lives and better equip them to meet their needs.
When Ron isn’t driving students to job sites or community outings, he works as a “floating” program assistant, filling in and being present wherever he is needed. As someone who had always focused on works of mercy in growing his spiritual life, it was new for Ron to embrace the value of simple presence, of being a conduit for God’s love simply by loving. It was an area of spiritual growth, he says, “to realize I could make a difference just by sitting with someone who is having a bad day… and seeing the impact that makes when it helps that person turn things around.”
Similarly, God’s presence is blossoming in Ron’s life in new ways. Whereas before, Ron was more directed in prayer, and prayed at set times each day, now he sees his relationship with God as more personal and continual. He finds himself praying throughout the day, not just at set times, and seeing that “prayer is in everything we do.” After all, says Ron, “if Jesus is our friend and our brother, anytime is good!”
Ron is looking to create an online group to meet quarterly with other IVC Corps members working with similar populations throughout the country; if you are interested, please contact Ron at: firstname.lastname@example.org