Thursday, August 18, 2016

Citizenship: The opportunity to serve a greater purpose

For the last few years, Heritage Christian has focused on the idea of citizenship -- the idea of honoring and respecting the rights and responsibilities that we all have. We've invited Anna Skinner, associate director of day programs in the Buffalo area, to share her thoughts. Anna...

I continue to try and wrap my head around the definition of citizenship and how it applies to our everyday life. I’ve also stepped outside of looking at it from a personal perspective and have tried applying it to a person who may have an intellectual disability. My outcome...there is no difference.

Citizenship applies to all people: In my eyes the definition is very complex but at the same time can be looked at as very simple. This involves building connections with people who have a common purpose and interest. It's a give-and-take relationship and for most people being an engaged citizen provides a strong sense of self worth, belonging and contribution.

A big question is, "How do we welcome people as equals?" This too can be very complex or looked at with a very simple answer: Be the person that welcomes people with open arms. Provide your time, talent and treasures and allow people to share theirs as well.

Think back to when you were finally able to get a job. The thought of earning your own money and having the freedom to spend it on whatever you wanted was awesome! The scary part of this journey was not having the experience, which is what we face in every step that we take in life. Experience helps you gain knowledge and skills. When people have the opportunity to gain experience and are exposed to new things this will ultimately build up our community and provide others with the opportunity to serve a greater purpose in life.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Relationships: Our most important work

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

"The ultimate success of a service system depends upon its ability to help people maintain and develop positive, enduring, freely chosen relationships."- John O'Brien

To someone who is not familiar with companionship, loneliness can be the norm -- permanent and inevitable. Loneliness and a disconnectedness of relationship with others creates proven changes within our chemical make up as a human being, literally depriving our brain of the hormone that stimulates happiness. This isn't just an extreme phenomenon noted in those who live in isolation. Many who exist within the presence of others can still be absent connectedness and relationship. They can still be deprived of the happiness and fulfillment that comes only through meaningful interaction with others.

Loneliness hampers our day-to-day ability no matter our starting point. Think of a time when you faced a challenge and didn't have others around you whom you trusted for council, people of your choosing, not people chosen for you. Our world becomes even more disorienting when we can't seek direction through the support or challenge of others we trust. We might even find that faced with loneliness day in and day out we become anxious and depressed.

Within the human support industry we must be cautious, loneliness can still lurk in the halls of busy programs full of activity. As a matter of fact, loneliness could even be more prevalent in busy environments. Now consider those you may support: If they are shy or quiet, if they communicate in ways less traditional, if a physical limitation makes them a bit more dependent on others to initiate a social exchange, chances are they could be easily overlooked. We might zip around busying ourselves with other day-to-day supports but completely miss supporting the foundational need for connectedness and personal relationships. I know looking back, I have made that mistake time and time again.

Our most important work must be to offer and nurture personal relationships. Relationships that endure beyond shift change, weekends and staff turnover. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Making social media about social inclusion

By Debbie Hall, direct support professional

Which of these sites do you have an account for or have at least used recently? Now what about the individuals you support? 

My guess is, on average, that there is a difference. Why is that?

Whether you like it or not, social media is how we stay connected. We all use it on a daily basis in some shape or form. We keep updated on our friends and family by scrolling through pictures and status messages on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We “talk” to others via text on Google+, Messenger, or Yahoo. We discover new things we would like to try by searching Pinterest, YouTube or Vimeo. Communication, connection, and discovering new things that we like are how we stay and become included with others. We choose to use social media as one of the mediums to do this. So, why are we not utilizing this world with those we support?

But, what would this look like? Here are some ideas on what you can do to help those you support utilize social media platforms:

  • Help create a list of people that are important and help to keep in contact via email or messenger.
  • Help post pictures and status updates about what is going on in their lives to share while having important conversations about what might not be appropriate to let others know.
  • Make a list of hobbies and interests and help/show how to scroll through sites like YouTube and Pinterest to find ways to learn new skills or improve on them.
  • Most of all, be creative and individual! Don’t be afraid to use these tools!

“In Social Media the “squeaky wheel” gets the oil. You have to put yourself out there, to find people who will relate or even debate with you, depending on what you are looking for.” - Jessica Northey

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The importance of sharing ordinary places

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

"Without intentional activity people with disabilities are more likely to belong to a smaller world, engage in a smaller world, and be in devalued roles, more likely to have fewer choices."- John O'Brien

Great things come when we share ordinary places.

As disability support services have evolved, models have been created in a manner that separates individuals from the general community, making it necessary for support providers to consistently be seeking ways that help one gain experience "in the community."  This has also created an unintended consequence of members of the general community assuming that since individuals have paid support, they themselves need not be concerned about how to welcome those with disabilities into their community circles. They might also assume that those with support needs require separation from community in order to be successful.

Having a home within a community or attending a program within a community has been a wonderful step toward full inclusion. Our next step is simply to share ordinary places. That may mean establishing some patterns that are frequent enough it might allow for new relationships to develop. Some may join others at the town diner for the Friday night fish fry or volunteer consistently for events offered through their church or local fire department. How about connecting with a local walking club and developing relationships as you enjoy exercise and fresh air?  Do you enjoy coffee while people watching every Monday at the local coffee shop?  Ever thought about ushering at a local theater? 

Seek experiences you'll enjoy. And remember, predictability and frequency increase the likelihood that new relationships will develop by sharing time in ordinary places. It is true and lasting relationships that combat isolation and exclusion.

Find some time to extend yourself to enjoy the community that you are a part of today. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Offering a personal invitation to community

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

Relationships don't expand without first sharing common places. Whether those places are physical spaces, common interests or mutual conversations, they are necessary for connection.

I'm sure we've all put ourselves in situations where we attended an event out of obligation but discovered we really enjoyed ourselves. You can see the growth and enjoyment that came from participating. I hope we all have many stories of successful relationships that develop when we take a step and enter into a new experiences. Yeah us!  

But what about the experiences we shy away from?  Have we examined the lost opportunity in order to challenge ourselves to move forward?  Let's consider what it might have taken to step into a new experience when we were uncertain.  Let's consider the difference between an opportunity that welcomed us versus an opportunity where we were invited, personally, to participate.

Recently, while attending the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, I had the opportunity to hear Eric Carter share the results of some research he and his team had recently conducted at the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University.  This research found that 52% of adults impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities do not belong to a faith community.  Perhaps this is explained by the fact that 56% of parents state that faith communities lack the necessary support to include their child. When the researchers turned their attention to the faith communities, they found only 18% of churches offered any kind of intentional focus to invite those with disabilities.

Certainly our faith communities intend to be welcoming, but maybe this is where we begin to see that offering a welcoming environment just simply isn't enough. You see, uncertainty is a barrier for us all. In order to take that step and be included when welcomed we might need an intentional, thoughtful invitation. Invitations are personal while welcomes are general.  Particularly for those who have had past experiences that have not been positive, they might need an extended hand in order to take that next step.

While I believe our communities of worship should be positioned to best model a personal, meaningful invitation, it doesn't stop there.  If we're to take the next steps toward full community inclusion, truly creating experiences for us all to share common places, we must challenge ourselves beyond general welcoming.  It's time for us to extend thoughtful, personal invitations. Who will you be inviting today to join you in a new experience?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Follow directions -- or drive change

 By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

As I continue to study and experience the Reggio Emilia-inspired philosophy as it is lived out through our Expressive Beginnings Child Care, I am amazed at how in step it is with our community-wide conversation on full citizenship. With interactions structured to provoke questions, learning becomes individualized and self directed, even in shared learning environments. This allows children, as they develop their sense of self, to also understand their contribution and belonging within any new experience. A Reggio-inspired teacher might challenge others by ensuring that the children spend much more time asking questions than they do following directions. 

How do we begin to enrich our adult conversations in the same way Reggio-inspired teachers enrich the conversation with youth? By showing an interest in others we are in conversation with and asking another question, opening them up to their unique story and their unique contribution. As we improve our ability to truly listen, it allows us the opportunity to engage in conversation differently.

It is in these enriched conversations that we'll advance by:
Seeking to listen, understand and respect the perspective of others.
Trusting one another to set aside the judgment that can limit our ability as human beings to dig into the tough stuff.

Let's work hard to have the kind of conversations that welcome others into the struggle that limits justice, freedom and the rights of others. Superficial conversations lead to superficial solutions, enriched conversations lead to true and just social change. It can't be achieved alone. It takes the work of a full community.

Where do you see the need for social change? How are you welcoming others into conversations that lead change? 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Advocacy at the right time, not all the time

By Andrey Khabursky, residence manager

Advocacy. What is it? What's it look like, feel like, and what makes it so significant and powerful?
Advocacy is the power to change the life of a person, a culture, a people.

Advocacy, whether spoken or unspoken is the driving force that brings us alongside our best intentions, and many times brings them to reality.

A few weeks ago "advocacy" became a redefined term for me. One of the gentlemen who live in a home supported by Heritage Christian staff had gone into the hospital, and after 5 days and 4 nights, he was ready to come home. The team at large stood on the fence, not comfortable to make a decision either way. I struggled through the channels of communication, hierarchy, and positional authority in order to take on the critical role of being an advocate in a new, very defined role. Much of the team looked at his past history, which is important, but they didn’t look at his current condition and honor what he wanted. We call this the “what ifs.” These what ifs could keep all of us from living a fulfilled and meaningful life, and moreover, keep us from offering the opportunity for others to do the same. As his housemates welcomed him home, he just "lit up" and a sense of refreshment washed over him.

So whether we're "thinking outside the box," or standing our ground on behalf of those we serve and support, we should always take their best interest into account when we become "their voice" for that moment. Like for you and I, there have been moments when we had someone come alongside us, and speak up for us, and make things happen. It's OK to be their voice, but may it be just for a moment... long enough to bring about change, build confidence and leave a lasting impact. Many times we want to be the voice of advocacy, not only at the right times, but all the time. We need to constantly reevaluate to see if we’ve taken their voice away or if we are being that push to get them going. Let’s think of their voice as a bobsled… many times, those we support only need that push to really get moving and the rest is driven by them. Often for our comfort, we long to hold on to that bobsled as it flies through the course at 70mph, and continue to be an advocate, not realizing, our advocacy was accomplished long ago.

Advocacy may be just the simple act of standing with another; unity.

Advocacy done right is empowering.