What Difference Can One Person Make?

I had the opportunity last November to travel about 30 miles north of my home to the beautiful Bucks County stone farmhouse and barn that is now the Pearl S. Buck Foundation museum and international headquarters.  Pearl Buck, as you may remember, was a prolific author and the first woman to be awarded both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for literature.  While a full accounting of her accomplishments would fill a book, here is a short summary of what I learned on that tour that I hope you will find inspiring:

•Pearl had one birth daughter, Carol, who was born with severe disabilities.  Pearl pushed for research to determine the cause, which was determined to be PKU.  As a result of her efforts, all babies born in this country are tested for PKU.  How many hundreds, even thousands, of children have been spared in the decades since, all because of Pearl’s determination?
•At a time when a child with disabilities was often hidden from public view, Pearl wrote a series of articles in popular women’s magazines about her daughter and, later, in a book called “The Child Who Never Grew.”  It was highly unusual that a famous person would speak so publicly about this topic, but her candor helped to raise disability awareness and reduce the “shame” associated with having a child with handicaps.
•When living at home was determined to be not the best option for her daughter, Pearl sought a progressive institution that pioneered “cottage” living in “family units” (group homes), functional therapies, and meaningful work, then lent her financial support and celebrity to further this caring treatment.
•Pearl, having been raised in China as the child of American missionaries, had an acute awareness of the plight of mixed race children, and worked tirelessly to promote mixed race and foreign adoptions.  Through her adoption foundation, “Welcome House,” over 2 million children have been adopted, and countless others have been adopted through other agencies, the way having been paved by Pearl.
•Pearl was also active in the Women’s Rights and Civil Rights movements.

Being there around Thanksgiving, I was reminded that we all have so much to be thankful for — much of which is easily evident: faith, family, friends, community, career, health, and other tangibles.  But, as my visit to Pearl Buck’s home reminded me, we also owe a debt of gratitude to those people in our past whose work is largely forgotten because their efforts have created changes in the world that we now take for granted:  health screenings for newborns, increased awareness and acceptance of disabilities, international adoptions, just to name a few.  What difference can one person make?  Pearl Buck made a difference to millions.  But I am willing to bet that, every day, every year, YOU make a difference to your students, their parents, their teachers. The impact of an SLP may not be on the grand scale of Pearl Buck but, as the story goes of a boy tossing one beached starfish into the ocean after another, “I may not be able to save them all, but I can make a difference to that one.”  Thank you for all that you do to make a difference in our world!

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