Volunteer Activity: Recycling Cans

My 29-year-old son David, who is deafblind and non-verbal, spends his weekdays at a Community-Based Day Supports Program (CBDS). My goal is for David to be out in the community, making friends and engaged in something meaningful.

At Perkins, David learned how to insert a soda can into a recycling machine. He enjoyed the activity; I wanted him to continue recycling at the CBDS. But, how could I convert this ordinary skill into an interesting, meaningful, community-based experience? 

Create a “before” experience

I looked for a nearby business that had a lunch room for employees. Through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to a manager at a local construction company.  I called the manager and after a brief description of David, I asked “Could David come to your business once a week to collect your recyclable cans?”  We met to discuss the idea. I brought photos of David and demonstrated how he communicates (a few signs).  I explained that David would always be with an aide. I offered to set up a recycling bin in their lunch room, but the manager did this for me. We defined the route David would take and agreed on a best time and day. We decided to email each other if there were problems. 

I purchased a portable shopping cart for David to collect the cans and lined it with a heavy-duty trash bag. After going along the first few times, I could see the activity was working: David was making friends at the construction company and collecting their cans once a week.

Create an “after” activity

Sticking to the goal of being 'out in the community', I looked for a nearby charity that would welcome a small gift of cash each week. Through a friend, I was introduced to the office manager at a local public school. I explained to her that my son David recycles cans and would like to donate the cash from recycling to their school. “Could David deliver a cash donation to the school once a week?” She was very happy to work with us. I stopped by the school office to work out the specifics: which door to use, what route to the office, what time of day was best. I have since observed David at the school: the women in the principal’s office are excited to greet David when he arrives with his pouch of change. The school has used David’s cash donations to help out students who can’t afford to purchase markers or go on a field trip. 

David’s Thursdays look like this: pick-up cans at the construction company, recycle cans at the supermarket, redeem the cans for cash, deliver the cash to the elementary school. Meaningful days, making friends.

I have since shared how the school uses the cash with the construction company. The construction company is happy to be helping students. The school is grateful for the construction company.  And, I’m grateful that both have opened their doors to David. 

Collage of volunteer recycling activity