Challenged individuals often are on the receiving end of volunteers’ time and talents.

But Matthew Diamond, Scott Lackey and Shannon Wakefield are three challenged volunteers who are turning the tables and experiencing the joy of giving.

Diamond, Lackey and Wakefield are volunteers at Presbyterian Hospital and participate in RISD’s new transition program for special education students.

The program teaches mentally challenged students how to take the next step from school to real life by helping them find jobs and teaching them how to live independently.

Debbie Wilkes, RISD transition and vocational specialist, says teaching the students how to give is an important goal.

“As citizens, we reach out to people with disabilities all the time, but we never allow people with disabilities to reach out to us,” Wilkes says.

Volunteering is a vital element of the transition program. Wilkes asks students about their interests and then finds appropriate volunteer sites.

Lackey has contributed more than 230 hours since he started volunteering at Presbyterian last April. He works at the hospital weekday mornings to assemble the inserts for medical charts.

Wakefield volunteers in the hospital gift shop every Tuesday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., stocking the shelves with merchandise. Since she started in July, Wakefield has volunteered more than 70 hours.

Another goal of the volunteer program is to prepare the students for actual employment.

Diamond worked more than 400 hours as a hospital volunteer between July and December 1993, helping the staff in several departments, including the wound care clinic, histology lab and the Care Club for senior citizens. While volunteering, Wilkes says Diamond applied for every job opening at the hospital.

In January, Presbyterian hired Diamond as a courier responsible for delivering specimens from labs to units on the hospital campus.

“People got to know Matthew’s gifts and talents, and as a result, he was hired,” Wilkes says.

Tracy Day, volunteer coordinator for the hospital, says the special education volunteer program has been an enriching experience for both the students and the hospital staff.

“The students were often limited because people didn’t give them any opportunities,” Day says. “Here at the hospital, they have overcome their challenges and play an important role in our volunteer program.”

Volunteer Opportunities

The Volunteer Center is a United Way agency that serves as a clearinghouse to recruit and refer volunteers for more than 750 agencies in Dallas. Thousands of volunteer positions are waiting to be filled. Call 826-6767 for information.

STOP AND SMELL THE FLOWERS: The Dallas Arboretum needs volunteers for Dallas Blooms, an annual display of thousands of spring flowers. From March 5-April 10, volunteers help with garden tours, membership information, concessions and the gift shop, and coordinate children’s activities.

ONE HOUR A WEEK: Make a difference in a student’s life by helping them learn to read. Volunteers are needed for the HOSTS tutoring program at five Dallas elementary schools. Volunteers are matched with students who are reading below the appropriate grade-level. Mentors and students meet one hour weekly during the school day.