When Ann Kiburz lost her job as a copy editor at a local magazine, she cried for three days. “I really did a number on myself: I’m such a loser; I’ll never get another job; nobody wants to hire a disabled person with a speech defect,” she told herself. “Then I figured, Hey, I’ve got a great family, I’ve got a roof over my head. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’ll help others.”

She was able to take her job loss in stride because it wasn’t the first time she’s faced a major challenge. Fifteen years ago, an automobile accident left her in a coma for three months. She woke up to good and bad news. “The good news was, I was alive against all odds,” she recalls. “The bad news was, I had brain damage.” Today, after countless hours of intense physical rehabilitation, outpatient rehab and speech therapy, she can walk and drive, but has balance problems and permanently slurred speech.

So, after a brief pity party following the recent loss of her job, she started volunteering at Peter & Paul Community Services, an agency that provides housing for the homeless, particularly those with illnesses or addiction issues. “I provide various editorial services, including updating and refining their Web site and helping them with their newsletter,” she says. “I’m going to edit their annual report, too, and help them put together a volunteer manual.”

Kiburz also produces a newsletter for BJC Healthcare’s Aphasia Conversation Connection, a community service organization that addresses the needs of people with aphasia, an acquired communication disorder caused by damage to the brain’s language center. “Aphasia, which often limits the ability to recall words and produce sentences, can mask competency—something I can really relate to because of my own speech defect,” Kiburz says. “I know what it’s like for people to assume I’m stupid just because I can’t speak clearly.”

Kiburz also volunteers at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and plans to help Central Catholic St. Nicholas School in North St. Louis with its newsletter. Meanwhile, she’s still searching for a salaried job. “Even if I’m fortunate enough to get hired in this economy, I’ll continue to volunteer as much as I can,” she says. “Volunteering lets me keep my skills sharp while helping causes that are very dear to my heart. It’s a win/win.”

For about a year, Ricky Wosmansky, who is moderately retarded, has been helping out at local food pantries, thrift stores and nursing homes as a volunteer for The St. Louis Arc (Association for Retarded Citizens). “At the food pantry, I put food in bags,” he explains. “It’s a good job, and it’s fun.”

The St. Louis Arc is an organization that helps more than 3,000 area children and adults with developmental disabilities by providing services, family support and advocacy. “Everyone has something to contribute, and everyone has value,” says Donna Elmore, a mentor at St. Louis Arc’s North County location. “We give people with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism an opportunity to connect with their community. Well, what better way to connect than by volunteering?”

St. Louis Arc’s North County Center offers about 120 volunteer hours a month to various community services, including Meals on Wheels and St. Louis County Government Center. “There are so many things our people can do,” Elmore says. “Every step they take, whether it’s bagging groceries or assisting with mailings at the government center, helps build their skills and self-esteem and maximize their choices. You can see them grow and change as they volunteer. And the agencies benefit from their assistance.”

Wosmansky agrees. “I get to meet a lot of people, and I get to help,” he says. “I like that.”