By Reagan Scott
LINCOLN (SNR) - When Randy Cakl’s father drops him off at Cathedral of the Risen Christ School in Lincoln every Thursday morning at 9:30, Randy knows exactly what to do. Walking inside with a smile, he stops by the front office to hang up his coat before heading off to the gym to help Cathedral’s athletic director and P.E. teacher, Aaron Williams, with the fourth-grade class. It’s one of Randy’s favorite parts of the day.
(Slideshow of photos available here)
Now volunteering for his second school year at Cathedral, everyone knows who Randy is. As he walks down the hallway, he smiles and waves at the students who enthusiastically call out, “Hi Randy!” and wave back. The fact that Randy, age 35, has Down syndrome does nothing to change their perception of him, or his positive outlook on life.
Randy began volunteering at Cathedral after the school’s principal, Jeremy Ekeler, expressed interest in having someone with special needs involved at the school. Randy’s parents were quick to reach out, and he has been volunteering at Cathedral ever since.
“I am a big proponent of kids creating relationships with people whose story is different from their own,” Ekeler said. “Most Catholic schools don’t have blended classrooms, and it’s important that the stories of people with special needs are ones our kids hear and are comfortable with.”
Since Randy began volunteering, Ekeler said he has noticed a change both in the school, and in the students.
“Initially the kids would get so fired up and excited just to see [Randy]. One of the greatest gifts he’s given us is a sense of normalcy and acceptance, though he still makes their day!” Ekeler said.
Williams has seen the impact that Randy has made.
“He’s made me look forward to Thursday,” Williams said. “He’s made me a better person and I think he’s making the school a lot better. It’s my honor to have him help me on Thursdays.”
Besides helping Williams with P.E. classes, Randy has lunch with the students and enjoys spending the time talking to them. He also helps other teachers in their classrooms. Julie Wisdom, a sixth-grade teacher at the school, is one of these teachers.
“He helps me hang things, he files things, anything I have for him he’s willing to do. I love his willingness to help… he never complains,” Wisdom said.
In Wisdom’s classroom, Randy uses his Fitbit – a personal activity tracker – to time himself filing papers. It’s always his goal to beat his old times. Wisdom has a Fitbit of her own and the two call each other “Fitbit Buddies.”
When Randy isn’t helping Wisdom file papers, the two like to talk about anything from what’s going on in their lives to one of Randy’s favorite subjects, WWE wrestling. When asked about it, his whole face lit up.
“I like our Thursday interactions and talking about daily life,” Wisdom said.
When his time with Wisdom is up, it’s time for Randy to return home where he lives with his parents, Duane and Mary Cakl.
Duane Cakl knows how much Randy enjoys helping out at Cathedral each week.
“[Randy] likes the interaction he has with the students and the students enjoy him,” Duane Cakl said. “He’s always happy when he comes home. He enjoys working with everybody.”
His father also recognizes the importance of what Randy is doing at Cathedral.
“I think it’s important for Randy to get out in the community and work with other people,” Duane Cakl said. “The students don’t have much interaction with special-needs students and he helps students observe and understand what special needs children can do.”
Helping at Cathedral isn’t the only thing that Randy does however, it’s just one of the many things that he fits into his busy schedule.
Randy has worked part time at Russ’s Market for 16 years, first at the store near 70th and Van Dorn before it closed, and now at their location on 33rd street. Randy works in the deli where he washes tables, sweeps the floors and takes the trash out. One of his favorite things about working at Russ’s is getting to attend the company’s yearly holiday party.
Randy is also a member of the Knights of Columbus. He and his father are both Third Degree members of the Cathedral Knights of Columbus, as well as charter members of the new Fourth Degree Council, called the St. John Paul the Great Assembly. The council is made up of members from different parishes in Lincoln.
When he’s not balancing volunteer work and his part-time job at Russ’s, Randy also competes for the Lincoln Sharks Special Olympics team. Randy has been competing in Special Olympics events for 25 years according to his father. He enjoys running track, bowling, and soccer. Now that winter is here, he has been competing in basketball and swimming. Randy has won multiple medals in the Special Olympics and his soccer team got placed third at the Special Olympics National Games in 2010.
Williams was able to attend three of Randy’s Special Olympics basketball tournaments last year and was amazed by what he saw.
“The sight of Special Olympics events is unbelievable,” Williams said. “[The competitors] display sportsmanship at its greatest height, everyone cheers for the other team. That’s something you don’t see in sports today and it’s something I try to teach the students.”
Williams and Randy shared this lesson with P.E. students this week. As class began, Williams and Randy described the sportsmanship they saw at the Special Olympics and reminded the students that Randy wants to leave a “legacy” of respect at Cathedral School.
Randy’s life lessons and his love of basketball also led him to help Williams as an assistant coach for last year’s eighth-grade girls’ basketball team.
“I think Randy brings out the best in others. He always has a smile on his face, he gives 100 percent, 100 percent of the time,” Williams said. “He shows these students through his own actions how to be a good person and how to be a good friend to someone.”
It’s obvious that no matter who he comes into contact with, Randy leaves a lasting impression and he certainly has made his mark on Cathedral.
Wisdom said, “He’s just one of us. He’s no different than any person in our Cathedral family.”