Every Tuesday and Thursday Christopher James and his service dog Hamilton go to Boutte’s River Parishes Community College – United Way campus and sort packages, set up classrooms, sanitize keyboards and perform other needed tasks.
Christopher is the school’s first – and currently only – campus volunteer, and his mother Penny James said the opportunity for her son to go to the school and perform the work has been life-changing for him.
“He enjoys it to an extent that you could not even believe,” Penny said of her 25-year-old son. “He loves it. He loves being around people and he loves talking to people. He is just absolutely enjoying it and it just opened up his world and his mind.”
Christopher has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder and other physical limitations. But that didn’t stop him from excelling in high school and becoming a trailblazer.
Christopher was the first special needs participant for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at Hahnville High School, and paved the way for other participants like himself to participate in ROTC. He was also the first student at St. Charles Parish School System to be accompanied by his service dog at school, and outside of a school setting he volunteered with countless organizations, including at his home church St. Anthony of Padua.
He has also participated in the Special Olympics for swimming.
Penny said she and her husband had many doubts and fears about Christopher’s future after he graduated from Hahnville High School is 2018.
“When he graduated it was hard,” she said. “It was very hard to put him somewhere … there was nowhere to go. Before the pandemic we would go to museums and go down to New Orleans … he loves museums and loves exploring, but then the pandemic hit and we couldn’t do any of that and so he was pretty much homebound.”
Penny said after she visited the Boutte college and had a conversation about her son with an employee there, Christopher began his volunteer work.
“He calls it his job. It makes my husband and I feel absolutely wonderful … he just absolutely loves it,” she said proudly. “He doesn’t need a job because his dad and I take care of him and he doesn’t need to work, but we want him to eventually find a program inside the college that he can do and learn. We’re hoping that now that he’s there and they can see what he’s capable of it will open up more opportunities for him and people like him in the parish.”
RPCC St. Charles Campus Director Penelope Shumaker said Christopher is a welcome addition to the RPCC family.
“He’s a really good role model for the students,” she said.
And as for Christopher, he didn’t hesitate when asked to answer what his favorite part of his job at RPCC is.
“Everything,” he said.