Volunteer Spotlight: Carol Schindler

Interview by Aria Kim

Carol Schindler is a devoted sister, aunt, artist, traveler, and retired nurse from NYC, now living in Metro Detroit. She is also a dedicated volunteer with Friends, Fun, & Fitness, LMNOP, Art Explosion, and special events.

Carol’s proclivity to service started long ago and has taken her far beyond the local Down syndrome community. As a Public Health Nurse, she spent two years on the tiny island of Saipan for a Peace Corps assignment and traveled to a wide range of countries such as Malaysia, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and Greece. It’s safe to say Carol has positively impacted the lives of people worldwide, and we are blessed to have her volunteer with GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit. Please enjoy the interview with Carol below!

Hi Carol, will you tell us a little more about your career?

For 35 years, I worked at the Detroit Medical Center, providing services to adults with development and/or emotional issues. I supported individuals in recovery, then worked as a nurse educator, and finished my career in the Electronic Medical Records Department.

What are some of your favorite hobbies and interests?

I am a felter [award winning – FYI] and use raw wool and a sharp needle to design pictures, dolls, animals, and more. I also enjoy Zen Tangle, silk ribbon embroidery, soft doll making, and watercolors.

What’s a fun fact about you that might surprise us?

In 1974, I traveled alone throughout Southeast Asia and Europe, which was hard because in many countries, like Pakistan, women weren’t allowed to travel alone. They had to be accompanied by a male relative. For safety purposes I could only eat in women’s sections of restaurants and sit in women’s compartments on trains and buses. At times the harassment was so bad I was forced to fend people off with my umbrella.

What do you love about being at GiGi’s? What keeps you coming back?

I enjoy something different in all 3 programs I attend. In Friends, Fun & Fitness we laugh a lot while trying to do various exercises. In Art Explosion I love to see the unique ability and creative expression of each participant. Getting hugs and interacting with toddlers in LMNOP allows me to feel like a grandmother, as I don’t have any children and all my grandnieces and nephews live far away.

How has volunteering here impacted your life?

I think I have gained more than I give. I have developed a trusting relationship with the participants which is meaningful for both of us. They demonstrate a unique appreciation for life and inspire me with their willingness to try new things.

Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering?

Several times during Friends, Fun & Fitness the laughter became contagious, almost to the point of me crying. These are the moments I cherish.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about individuals with Down syndrome?

I think society believes individuals with Down syndrome can’t live independently, drive, have relationships, or go to college. But this is not true, and fortunately, we’re seeing more positive representation on TV. Last year I saw an individual with DS running a marathon during the Special Olympics, and last week CBS Morning featured a couple with DS in Australia. The man owns a food truck, and the woman is a dancer. Locally, I know two adults with DS who will be rooming together at college in the fall and several adult participants in Friends, Fun & Fitness had to stop coming due to working and taking classes.

Thank you, Carol, for all that you do to support the Down syndrome community and GiGi’s Playhouse Detroit!

Do you want to get involved?

We are always looking for more volunteers! Please join us for our next volunteer orientation, Saturday July 30th, from 10 – 11am. If you have any questions, email volunteerdetroit@gigisplayhouse.org or call the Playhouse at 248-557-9899.

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