Valentine's Day with Project Compass

On Valentine’s Day, it seems everyone is either out with their significant other or in their rooms eating chocolate and watching sappy romantic movies on Netflix. Usually I’m the latter of the two (ha-ha!), but this year, I had the opportunity to do something completely different. I spent my evening helping out at a dance sponsored by Project Compass for people with disabilities. It was a unique experience that I definitely want to be a part of again. This is totally possible because Project Compass actually holds dances every month, not just for Valentine’s Day.

Project Compass is an organization that provides people who have disabilities the chance to meet new people, get more involved in the community and have a great time. They offer multiple classes and services to fulfill the needs of people with both developmental and physical disabilities including:

  • Registration Assistance
  •  Scholarships
  •  One-on-one Support
  •  A Disability Library
  •  Support Groups
  •  Sign Language Interpreters
  •  Educational Workshops

The dances, in particular, are a part of Project Compass that Winona State University is very involved in. Multiple different clubs from our campus including the Student Association of Social Workers (this is my club!), Circle K, Student Council for Exceptional Children, and Recreation Tourism and Therapeutic Recreation club all volunteer to help host a monthly dance. Each dance costs $10 to attend, but with $15 scholarships awarded to practically every Project Compass participant, they always have the chance to go to a dance.

At a regular dance, participants enjoy pizza donated by Dominoes, fruit, cookies and pop, but it’s not long before the DJ is playing music and everyone moves to the dance floor. The clubs and organizations that host the dance also get the chance to meet the participants of Project Compass. I met a man who is blind and has the best sense of humor ever and loves making new friends. Another man told me he enjoys dancing with his girlfriend at these dances. In addition, I met a lady who kept happily shrieking to expressing how much fun she was having at the dance.

Talking to participants and seeing people from our own club dancing with them was pretty special. The joy and happiness on so many of those participants’ faces was worth all the planning and hard work that we in the SASW club, put into hosting the dance.

Currently, Project Compass has more than 700 people with physical or mental disabilities who attend events throughout the year. Helen Newell, program director, said that while Project Compass always has a fair amount of volunteers, she loves seeing new people volunteering. New volunteers just need to go through a short training session and then they’re free to help volunteer at different events such as dances.

I definitely recommend this volunteer opportunity, especially to people looking into special education, social work or any other career that involves interaction with people. You not only get to meet new people, but you get to help make their lives better and have a great time doing so. My experience at the Valentine’s Day dance was so wonderful and I can’t wait until my social work club hosts the next dance for them.

–Sharna Miller

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