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Mary Doten: Five decades worth of life’s greatest experiences: 50 Years of Abilities United

Mary Doten with her husband Stan

As a high school student in the late 1960’s, I became involved with children with special needs when my mother offered my “sitting services” to a friend of hers. I would look after Jimmy, who was four years old, and the youngest of three boys. His parents had a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that Jimmy had been diagnosed as
“un-trainable”. He was attending a specialized pre-school, but the family needed help after hours and some respite time.

 During the summer Jimmy attended a morning program and I participated as his caregiver. Every afternoon and on weekends I was also with him.

Looking back, I was taking quite a risk for a 16-year-old, and I learned that more than compassion was needed. Considerable patience, perseverance, creativity, common sense and caring were also required.

My experience with Jimmy led me to the Betty Wright Swim Center in early 1970, and to what is now Abilities United. I volunteered for two years and was trained to assist the instructors who taught swim techniques to the children with disabilities. Since I worked closely with the staff at Abilities United, I learned how devoted they were to all of the children. The children benefited immensely. They not only had fun, but had a chance to enjoy a new experience, and learned that they could do an athletic activity which was also great physical therapy. They left with happy smiles on their faces.
I married during that volunteer time and though my husband and I have been in and out of the Bay Area since 1972, there has always been something at Abilities United that has drawn me back into their fold. I was active on the Authors Luncheon (fundraiser) planning committee in the early 1990’s until 2007 and co-chair of the Authors Luncheon in 2001 and 2003.

Through the many moves I have had, I have never found an organization to match the quality of the services and employees at Abilities United. Abilities United is a very special place, and it was a wonderfully rewarding place to have volunteered!
My volunteer experiences and years with Abilities United have been many and varied, all because of a little boy named Jimmy. In honor of my childhood friend, my husband and I placed a special brick in honor of Jimmy in the Abilities United Heritage Garden. Knowing Jimmy and everything I experienced because of him helped form the rest of my life and proved to be one of my greatest satisfactions in life.

Written and submitted by Mary Doten. Edited by Bob Thomas and Wendy Kuehnl.

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