Inclusion makes a beautiful community

March is National Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (NIDDA).  This Act Locally Waco blog post is one of a series which will be posted Tuesdays throughout the month of March to raise awareness and build understanding about some of the issues, challenges and possibilities associated with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. – ABT

By Serina Cole

I have lived in small towns most of my life.  It comforts me to know everyone on my block. I like that I went to school with most of my sons’ teachers.  I know by name and reputation every elected official in my town.  I call them by first name and in most cases, I call them my friends.  You may not have the whole town round for dinner once a week, but when there is a crisis – like a fire on a farm or somebody losing their dog – you will be amazed at how the community rallies together.  I’ve seen our town shut down for football games and for funerals.  This is community to me even though t’s not perfect by any means.  I’m not sure if a perfect community exists, but I love this description of one: An inclusive community is open and accessible for all.   In this community, each member is able to take an active part and is safe and empowered.  In an inclusive community, citizens’ voices are heard and their contributions are acknowledged and valued by their neighbors.  In an inclusive community, every person is respected as a citizen who can fully exercise her or her rights and responsibilities.  It is a community where each member brings unique strengths, resources, abilities and capabilities.  WOW!  Is there such a place? Because I want to live there!

I borrowed this description from the American Association of Intellectual Developmental Disabilities’ (AIDD) journal. The title of the journal is Inclusion and it reports on the inclusion of individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities and their place in society.  The concepts of integration and community based services for individuals with I/DD have influenced public policy, in turn affecting public practice.  Phrases such as “least restrictive environment” and “mainstreaming” emerged as part of landmark right-to-education legislation.  More and more we see inclusion taking place in our community, but inclusion is more than just placing people in neighborhoods, schools, family homes, places of worship, regular recreational activities, and so forth. It is about supporting people to become connected and to be a part of the place or activity.

In my time as an advocate for the I/DD community, I’ve encountered many types of people.  For the most part, the message I share has been embraced and the support has been astounding.  But, there are always the skeptics, those who don’t agree with my way of thinking.  Even after the patient explanations, careful arguments, foot stomping disputes and frustrated tears, there are people who just don’t agree that this special needs population has a place outside of the state school or institution.  It was only a few months after I started with Mosaic as the Community Relations Manager that we had to fight to save a woman’s life when her doctor didn’t place enough value on it to save her.  We won that battle and were able to persuade her family to agree to a minor operation that saved her life. But, we lost the war because the doctor remained unmoved and resolved in his belief that she wasn’t worth the effort.  Do you question the value of people with intellectual disabilities?  What possible contribution can they make to your community?  It’s ok if you do, I understand!  Honestly, I would have the same questions had I not grown up with my brother with special needs.

I have the pleasure of working with a young man named Johnathon.  He receives services from Mosaic, a HCS (Home and Community Based Services) provider in Waco that provides support to individuals with I/DD. Johnathon is also an advocate for the I/DD population.  He shares his story with others hoping he can change perceptions and open people’s minds to the endless possibilities his life holds.  I want to share part of his message with you now:

My name is Johnathon.  I live in a Mosaic Group home and work part-time in the Mosaic office.  I stayed with my mom until I got into trouble.  The police picked me up from my house and I went to jail.  I had to go to the courthouse to see the judge.  She told me instead of going to prison, she would give me 10 years of probation and let me move into a Mosaic group home.  While I was on probation, I had a baby girl.  She is 9 years old today.

Mosaic helped me stay out of trouble.  The talked to me and helped me get the therapy I need to make me a better person.  I learned right from wrong.  I’m no longer on probation and am free to live my life without restrictions.  I do things I enjoy.  I like to stay busy and work hard.  One day I want to help people.  I want to go to college.  I have big dreams for myself.  I know anything is possible if I try hard enough.  I am a dad, a volunteer, an employee, a student, a champion, an artist, and a friend.  I am proud of the man I am today!

Johnathon is an inspiration.  How many of us can say we are all these things!  While he may not understand his purpose, Johnathon knows his value.  His story offers only a glimpse of what can be possible when the right supports are in place.  He has so many aspirations for his life because he’s been given permission to dream!  As I kid I had a poster that read, “Before the reality comes the dream.” We have to start somewhere.

What will it take to realize this vision of an ‘inclusive community’?  There must be a shift in focus in viewing people with disabilities according to their deficiencies and limitations to focusing on their strengths and capacities. People need opportunities to share their gifts and strengths.  Both in our professional and personal lives, we must promote and practice the values of acceptance and hospitality for all people. If we don’t, how can we expect it of others? Hospitality is not a heroic virtue, but a commonplace part of everyday life. We must all be active participants in making our communities welcoming places for all. Join with me in these efforts.


Serina ColeThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Serina Cole. Serina lives in Cameron, Texas, but commutes over 120 miles a day to fulfill her passion to serve individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities.  She has worked as the Community Relations Manager for Mosaic in Waco, to create opportunities for individuals with I/DD to pursue a meaningful life in a caring community, giving a voice to their needs.  Serina is very involved in the I/DD community as a volunteer, educator and advocate.  She volunteers as the Delegation Coordinator and coach for Mosaic’s Special Olympics team and serves as the Secretary for the Waco Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities.  She is a recent graduate of Waco’s Leadership Plenty Institute, Class of 2014-2015. She states she has fallen in love with the Waco Community and how the city embraces the opportunity to serve, love, protect and care for those in need. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

 

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