When donor Jim Ryan was invited on a tour of Kennedy Krieger High School, he didn’t quite know what to expect. Kennedy Krieger has more than 72 programs, and he’d only recently learned that it had a high school, middle school and elementary school, in addition to its hospital and other programs.
As he sat waiting in the school’s two-story lobby, a small group of students wandered in and sat down. He noticed that even though most of the students in the group could barely sit still, all seemed happy and at ease with their surroundings. One of them held up his palm for a silent ‘high five’ with Jim. It’s a moment, Jim says, he’ll always remember as poignant, cordial and ever-so-genuine.
The high school, on Kennedy Krieger’s Greenspring Campus, “is such a special place. You have to see it to fully understand what transpires there,” says Jim, whose tour guide that day was Dr. Derek Glaaser, the school’s education director. “As we walked the hall, Derek greeted every student we passed with the student’s first name.
During his tour, Jim got to see one of the school’s new Zuma ZRock School Chairs. The ZRock was specially designed to allow its occupant to sit and rock gently and rhythmically, self-comforting when feeling stressed or over-stimulated. In a way, it’s a comfort chair, especially for students with autism spectrum disorder. Jim was so inspired by what he saw that he made a donation to the school so that it could purchase more ZRock chairs for other classrooms.
Stopping in another classroom, Jim observed two students confined to wheelchairs due to brain injury complications. Both were speedily typing on their computer keyboards. One young woman saw him and carefully raised her hand to fist-bump a greeting to Jim. “It was the best fist bump I’ve ever experienced,” Jim says.
Then he went to Café James, which is staffed by students enrolled in a hands-on class that teaches them how to work in the food service industry. The students go on to become interns placed by the school at food service locations off campus. At Café James, Jim met an impressive student worker who is also serving in the Coast Guard.
Although he initially didn’t know what to expect, Jim came away from the tour cherishing his encounters with the remarkable students he met.
I know what the tour did for me,” he says. It allowed him to make unusual and heartwarming human connections and to see youth with disabilities in a new way. Taking that tour “is one of the best investments of time that you could possibly make.
Jim has been a Kennedy Krieger donor for the better part of a decade. His generosity began as a gesture to honor the 4-day-old grandchild his family lost to a metabolic disorder many years ago.