The day begins for Jenny Hicks. It’s a day like any other. She wakes up. Loads the coffeemaker. Gets dressed. Brushes her teeth. Starts the car.
Then she saves the world.
She leaves the house. It’s morning time. The sun is rising over rural Georgia like an orange billiard ball.
She pulls her SUV to the curb of a nondescript house. She leaps out of the vehicle. Her friend’s wheelchair is parked by the curb.
Meet Ben. He is a grown man with a developmental disability. He is waiting here for her.
“HI MISS JENNY!” Ben says.
Jenny gives him a hug. “Are you ready for our trip today, Ben?”
“FIELD TRIP!” he shouts. “FIELD TRIP!”
Whereupon Jenny Hicks rolls up her sleeves and lifts Ben into the backseat of the SUV. She strains to get him situated. She twists. She uses every muscle she has. She struggles. Then she buckles him in.
And now that she has worked up a sweat, her day is just beginning. Because it’s time to go pick up her next passenger.
“This is my life,” she says. “And I love it.”
Jenny started PEAK a few years ago. PEAK is a donor-funded program run by volunteers. It is a program for people with developmental disabilities. People who have graduated from high school and suddenly found themselves lost in the crevices of a society that has forgotten them.
Jenny cut her teeth working in high school special education. She’s seen the best and the worst. Early in her career, she noticed something was wrong with the system.
“Too many of my students were graduating and going straight to the sofa,” said Jenny. “And that just wasn’t good enough for me. I had a former student pass away, and she hadn’t seen her friends for years before her death.”
Everyone deserves the opportunity to keep having a life. Everyone should have the right to continue learning, making friends, and being part of the human race.
Jenny began working toward these goals while still working as a teacher.
One year for prom, she got the whole school involved in planning an accessible prom for her students.
She arranged for tuxedo rentals. She got gowns donated for every young woman who wanted one. And when the wheelchair accessible limousine pulled up to the curb that night, everyone totally freaked out. For many students, it was the best night of their existence.
And that’s what Jenny has been doing with her life. She’s been helping her friends. Rescuing planet earth. One person at a time.
Now that she has started PEAK, she teaches basic life skills. She teaches persons with developmental disabilities how to keep living, how to keep having fun.
Jenny and her volunteers teach adults with developmental disabilities how to do everything. She teaches them how to shop at Walmart, how to buy groceries, how to budget, and how not to blow all their cash on, say, Chili Cheese Fritos.
She takes them to the zoo, to concerts, to the beach, to the park, to art class, the theater, the opera, you name it.
“We recently helped coordinate a trip for a couple brothers with cerebral palsy to the beach. They hadn’t ever seen the waves or put their toes in the sand. So we took them. We loaded them up and gave them the beach. That’s what PEAK is all about.”
But it’s not easy for Jenny to physically lift middle-aged guys into SUVs using nothing but her raw strength and the Joy of the Lord. It’s getting more difficult for volunteers to keep this up, too. Everyone’s lower backs are complaining.
Currently, PEAK is trying to buy a wheelchair accessible van. But these custom vehicles cost about as much as tactical government submarines.
This is rural Georgia. PEAK is an itty-bitty organization.
Jenny has held a few fundraisers. She’s tried to get the ball rolling. Donations have been trickling in, but the money is coming from unexpected places. Mostly, from people who can’t afford it.
“Everytime a donation comes in I cry,” she says. “Because it’s usually from someone making a huge sacrifice.”
An elderly couple donated $5 in a ratty envelope.
A little girl donated her piggy bank, with tears in her little eyes.
A blue-collar man turned over his paycheck.
A guy in the parking lot of O’Charley’s saw Jenny struggling with a wheelchair, he donated $20 right there.
A middle-schooler donated $41.84, the entirety of her life savings.
Elderly men in faded clothes, with developmentally disabled sons, send in a few bucks at a time. Church ladies with big hearts send in cash. Local contractors. Farmers. Teachers. Quarterbacks. Majorettes. Preachers. Mill workers. High schoolers with summer jobs. Derelict columnists with buck teeth.
“It’s coming, a little bit at a time,” says Jenny. “We’re going to get this van. It’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when. Someday we’ll have wheels.”
And then, Jenny Hicks can go back to saving the world.