“I enjoy dusting,” says Samantha Given, feather duster in hand.
As the 19-year-old moves around the Amherst Public Library dusting shelves, we talk about her favorite movie, “The Wiggles,” and then she reads to me from her favorite book, “The Wizard of Oz.”
Sammi loves volunteering at the library, where she helps clean, stamp books, and sort stickers. She also regularly takes flowers to an adult care facility to brighten the residents’ day and reads to children at Le Chaperon Rouge, a private care center and elementary in Amherst.
“And she’s good at it,” said her mother, Lisa Given, showing us pictures of Sammi in PJ Masks costume with younger children. “I’m so proud of her just for doing it. When she’s around those kids, she’s in her element.”
Sammi has muscular dystrophy and developmentally is about age six.
She graduated this spring from Amherst Steele High School but like other children with cognitive disabilities will continue to attend until she is 22.
Students in the special education program are encouraged to find work opportunities with local businesses. Sammi tried it “and it just didn’t work for her,” said home health aide Tammy Nichols, who has worked with Sammi the past 11 years.
But the teenager took immediately to volunteering. “Now she feels like she’s contributing, that she’s part of a community,” Nichols said.
Together, the elder Given and Nichols have been there for Sammi through calcium issues, broken toes, and eating problems. They’ve watched her thrive in Special Olympics. And they’ve seen how much Sammi loves Willy Wonka, Clifford, and Dr. Seuss.
Given said she worries every day about what will happen when she is gone and Sammi will be on her own.
She’s comforted by Nichols, who said she’d gladly take Sammi as her surrogate daughter. “I see something different in her every day. I learn some new from her all the time,” Nichols said. “I love her. I’d be lost without her.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.