Like so many other women, Laura Dile came to the Easter Seals' annual "A Pair to Remember" event with a desire to help the nonprofit and an eye toward bidding on one of the expensive packages that feature a spectacular pair of shoes.
Little did she know three years ago she would end up walking in the shoes of those who strive to help Easter Seals clients — newborns to 6-year-olds with developmental and learning disabilities.
Dile so enjoyed the 2010 event that she explored how Easter Seals helps toddlers make remarkable advancements.
Going from drinking from a bottle to drinking from a cup may appear to be normal progression for a baby, but it's significant when it's a 3-year-old child. A child climbing into a chair? Standard, unless you're talking about a 2-year-old youngster paralyzed from the waist down.
Witnessing such daily miracles and reflecting on the appreciation of the families led Dile to another step. Her husband and two children joined her at Easter Seals' Camp Challenge in Mount Dora for a week of volunteer work. The camp provides recreational activities for children and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities, but it provided the Dile family with much more.
"It was the most amazing experience of our lives," Dile said. "It taught us so many lessons."
Her young son came to realize that while kids may look different on the outside, they're all the same. Her teenage daughter embraced the joy of helping others.
The family discovered how small joys can make a big difference, whether it's watching the excitement of a disabled teen making his first swim or the smile of an adolescent tackling a craft project.
At the camp, the Diles handled menial tasks — mopping floors, serving food, washing dishes — when not working with the children. They also found overwhelming gratitude from the counselors, who appreciated gestures like McDonald's milk shakes. The Diles have returned to Camp Challenge every year and plan on making a fourth visit this summer.
In fact, the work of Easter Seals left such an impression that Dile now works as a development specialist for Easter Seals Tampa. She's heading up this year's "A Pair to Remember" and hopes to draw an even larger crowd to the Tampa Yacht Club on Feb. 15. (Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at fl.easterseals.com, or call Dile at (813) 769-5923.)
The ladies luncheon and shoe auction creates fun as guests mingle with models to learn more about the gift packages. Organizers package the dazzling shoes, such as stylish peep-toe pumps, with gift packages that feature trips, hotel stays, tickets to special events and other enhancements.
Then the ladies sit down to sip champagne while the auction begins with the models strutting the runway, displaying the shoes on a silver platter. Some walk up fighting nerves. I know because I did last year. That's right, I modeled — although putting me on the runway stretches the very definition of the word "model."
Still, when it comes to helping these deserving kids take on daily challenges, putting yourself out there is easy. Hopefully, someone will walk away with stunning shoes, a terrific package and maybe a desire to follow Dile's path and help in even bigger ways.
That's all I'm saying.