The annual banquet of Heartland Opportunity Center always is a humbling and spiritual experience. The banquet Thursday was especially so.
As you may know, Heartland is the organization first set up 40 years ago to provide employment training and work experience for the physically and mentally disabled. Heartland’s clients are people whose bodies may not be as strong as those of others, and whose minds may think about the problems and joys of life differently, and sometimes with great difficulty. Their muscles aren’t always coordinated, their brains sometimes send confusing messages to their nerves and bodies. Some have a hard time talking. Some are blind or can barely see; some are hard of hearing or deaf.
Their difficulties may be the result of problems they have had since birth; some are victims of injuries. But here is what they have had in common: Heartland has been here to help them.
At the luncheon, held at the Madera Municipal Golf Course banquet room, you never would know these Heartland clients have problems. They may not look like the rest of us, they may not talk like the rest of us — but, oh, they do laugh like the rest of us. For that one day, they put any Rotary, Kiwanis or Lions club to shame. Their joy and their respect for one another is an example we all should follow.
The spirituality that was in that room was beyond question. Ninety-year-old James Turner stood and gave the invocation, asking the Lord to wrap his protective arms around all those present. Rhonda Renfro, a client whose disabilities include blindness, stood and sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings” a cappella, her beautiful soprano voice filling the room, after which she received a standing ovation.
News that Heartland was merging with Arc Fresno (Madera Tribune, May 15) was greeted with some concern, but Heartland CEO Kristy Anderson and Arc Fresno CEO Lori Ramirez assured the hundreds in attendance that the services of Heartland would not go away, and that, an even stronger organization would emerge.
If that organization’s strength is determined by the outcome of its efforts, however, there was no question on Thursday of how strong it is, and how we must do what we can to make it be stronger.
As Rhonda Renfro sang, “I can fly higher than an eagle, for you are the wind beneath my wings ... Thank you, thank you, thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.”