YMCA Stories

June 16, 2011

A Special Need to Give: Liam McCarthy

Liam McCarthy, 12, was looking for a way to give back, to volunteer. His mother, Elisa, was looking for a way to give Liam more independence and a sense of social responsibility. Kids with special needs at the Y needed typical, older friends to play with.

Through the Y Pals program, started this year at the East Area Family YMCA, everyone is getting what they need.

“Liam is our most dedicated Y Pal,” said Kim Purcell, inclusion coordinator at the East Y, said of Liam. “I think he’s getting a sense of accomplishment. When you talk to him, he’s always smiling. It’s genuine. He really feels good about helping others.”

Liam said he wanted to get involved after seeing a poster at the Y.

“It was about helping disabled kids,” said Liam, of Fabius. “It just seemed like it was the right thing to do and that it would be fun to work with them and to help them get through their challenges.”

Liam filled out the application, which required him to write an essay and get a letter of recommendation. After attending the first class, Liam knew it was for him. He now spends two hours each month, with the Social Butterflies group. Kids in the program, who are learning how to better interact with peers, look to him as a role model. Liam helps by organizing and participating in games and activities.

The Social Butterflies kids benefit from Liam’s presence, Kim said.

“He doesn’t jump right in,” Kim said. “He lets the person figure things out by themselves and then helps them. … He’s very thoughtful and patient.”

Liam keeps track of the meeting times and other responsibilities, she said. The program includes a class to train Y Pals such as Liam about how to help kids with special needs. It also includes training and information about kids with special needs.

“I’ve learned how to talk to each kid differently,” Liam said. “Some of them need more help focusing than others.”

Elisa said she has enjoyed watching her son grow through the program.

“This was kind of big for him to have something I’m not involved in,” she said. “I don’t have to make him go to this. He’ll give up doing stuff on Saturdays with a friend to go to this.”


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