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Spotlight: Finding joy in lending a helping hand

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | APRIL 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Emily Nefzger doesn’t think shuffling down the aisles of a grocery store is a mundane chore.

Through her work helping a young disabled man, the University of Iowa student has witnessed the thrill of grabbing a jug of milk or the exchange of money at the counter.

Nefzger works for Consumer Choice Options, a branch of the Iowa Department of Human Services, where she assists a family friend whom she’s known for years.

“It’s so fun; they’re amazing,” Nefzger said about her friend and his roommate who often tags a long. “Everything is such a big deal to them. You realize how much you take for granted, I guess.”

Nefzger visits the pair roughly two times a week, helping her friend leave his apartment for a few hours.

Sometimes, they spend an afternoon walking or exercising at the Hawkeye Recreation & Wellness Center, baking in the kitchen, or going to a movie.

A smile slowly spread across Nefzger’s face as she recalled her friend’s constant curiosity for life and bewilderment at the world surrounding him.

“It’s so fun hanging out with them,” she said, her work seeming more like play. “It’s like another day, going out with friends or something. But I love it.”

Emily Nefzger’s mother, Linda Nefzger, initially suggested the companion job. A year and a half later, she said her daughter still loves it.

“She knows they’ve got potential,” Linda Nefzger said.

Emily Nefzger’s bubbly personality blossoms when talking about the way her relationship with the man has grown over time.

“He’s very fond of Emily,” said Melinda Crane, the young man’s full-time caregiver. “He always looks forward to weekends with her.”

Crane recalled a time when she was stuck at the grocery store alone and Nefzger came to rescue her.
“She’s self-less,” Crane said.

When Crane heard Nefzger — a college student — was coming to help, she admitted she was skeptical. But Crane soon saw Nefzger’s dedication to caring for the pair.

“She’s a person that’s willing to go the extra mile,” Crane said.

Nefzger said she loves getting to know caregivers at various events Consumer Choice Options hosts.

“All are so much fun, and they love what they do, and they appreciate it a lot,” Nefzger said. “I could see a lot of us working there for a longtime.”

She said she cherishes the time she gets to spend as a caregiver. She said with confidence she’ll be doing it for the remainder of her time at the UI and maybe even after.

“She likes working with them,” Linda Nefzger said. “She knows there are opportunities for them to do stuff on their own that most people think they can’t do on their own. It takes certain people to do that job. And she’s one of them.”


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