When we use the phrase “A Life Like Yours” (ALLY), we mean it. We want every person with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) to be able to enjoy the freedoms and joys of independent living just like you and me. That’s why our Direct Support Professionals and “consumers” (folks with DD who receive services from The Arc of HR), go out in small teams of 4 to do things like go to a park, a movie theater, or the mall. Running errands or window shopping may seem like small luxurious to us but are often unavailable to people with DD because of caregiver burnout, lack of transportation, and so many other barriers this community faces.
Barbara, a mother of an adult son with DD, is also a DSP with The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham. She reflects on her own perspective shift regarding the value of community engagement that being a DSP has opened up to her…
“I am a parent of a special needs adult. It was because of my child that I began working with The Arc. Before I joined The Arc as a DSP, I saw my ‘child’ off doing what I considered meaningless activities with The Arc like going to the mall with other adults with special needs. Once I started working with the Arc though, I realized my ‘child’ was making friends and learning to connect with others and because of this my ‘child’ is learning to be more independent.
After seeing this in-person, I am confident that every outing our program makes into the community is one more opportunity that would not exist otherwise for our consumers. We begin our community outings volunteering at a local site such as folding laundry at Bridgewater Retirement Community where consumers focus on the task at hand and therefore, can not do much socializing. Then we eat lunch which is when our Community Engagement Team (CET) is able to chat, play games, and then go to places around town to browse. Although we find so much meaning in our volunteer work, I’ve come to understand that having free time to explore as a team is just as important because this is when friendships are developed and other social skills are practiced. When consumers leave early, they don’t have the time to do the socializing we all need to have vibrant lives. If we were to focus only on task-oriented outings, everyone, including the wider community, would miss out on so much. In fact, taking this second portion of our day away is like your boss telling you breaks are no longer allowed because it wastes company time and money.
If you’re a caregiver that is skeptical of the value of this social time, we invite you to take some time to come out with us on one of our Community Engagement trips. I truly think you will see that our consumers are very happy connecting with each other and connecting with other people from other agencies doing similar work.”
Thanks to Barbara for the work she does to open up these opportunities to the I/DD community in our area and for her willingness to share her own story.