Community Inclusion is a topic you will often hear us at Pioneer Center talking about. But, I am guessing you, like many, wonder “what is it?” and “why is it so important?” We asked several of our staff members to chime in on how they define Community Inclusion and why they believe it is so vital to what we do at Pioneer Center. Below is an article written by DJ Newport our Director of Developmental Disability Services that includes several of their perspectives.
Community Inclusion, as we define it and work to implement it means multiple things. Some of it is for fun, but I think the key terminology that I would use is to “improve quality of life.” Many of the people that we serve live a very structured, and at times clinical life. The opportunity to go out for dinner is usually limited to McDonalds. Their interactions with people who do not also have a disability are limited to staff or family members. Even their interactions with other people with disabilities are limited to those who are in Pioneer Center programs with them or for about 40% of our clients, they may meet other people with disabilities at NISRA programs.
Community Inclusion at Pioneer, in my mind has two main purposes:
It helps to develop the skills needed be part of the community that people live in. In all reality, many times, and our clients are included in this, people with disabilities live within their community but aren’t involved in it. By volunteering in the community, people who aren’t paid to work with them start to know the clients by name and are excited to see them when they show up.
Here is a story that exemplifies what we mean… A couple weeks ago Joe Lawler, Day and Community Program Manager, took a small group of clients to the Habitat for Humanity Restore in McHenry to volunteer. Two of the clients were very experienced in volunteering there and the staff were very happy to see them. One of the clients was assigned to sort some copper fittings, and the other client assisted in moving boxes of tile to be displayed on the shelves. The work they do there is very helpful for the staff at Restore and you can tell they really appreciate when we show up; it is not just busy work. Some of the other clients are less independent and need to be more closely supervised. Regardless, every client that volunteers there is very proud of their work and they all make a difference in the running of the store
The second purpose in my mind is to provide opportunities that many people take for granted. Some of what we consider Community Inclusion does look purely recreational, but it serves a greater purpose. I think fishing is a great example. When I want to go fishing, I go fishing. It is not that simple for clients, there aren’t always family members who can take them, and they would struggle to call a friend to come and pick them up and go fishing with them, so we try to provide those opportunities.
Community Inclusion serves a major purpose of belonging for those we serve. When Kevin Clancy, DT Coordinator, first started, he would take clients bowling and then to McDonald’s. This was the only inclusion opportunity that was acted upon back then. While exciting for the clients, bowling and McDonald’s every week or so does not open up the clients to many people in our community. With so many different opportunities we now have for community inclusion, our clients are able to volunteer their time and serve the community they are so proud to be a part of. Clients also participate in active and exciting outings in which those who are not part of the disabled population do not get to do every day. An example here is going to Kane County Cougars baseball games and Windy City Bulls basketball games.
Jan Trebing, QIDP Supervisor, has the same sentiment that what our clients do when they volunteer in the community is truly meaningful and does make a difference in other people’s life. An example she shares is our clients that volunteer for the Senior Care Volunteer Network and deliver flowers to seniors in their birthday month. For some of those individuals our group are their only visitors and that human connection is so vital in their lives. Our flower delivery groups gets numerous kudos from the seniors and the Senior Care Volunteer Network. They are included, like all other volunteers from that organization, in trainings and events, they have attended a volunteer appreciation event and they interact with other volunteers from the community. Not only do our clients feel proud of their contributions but volunteering helps build social skills and increases awareness in the community of the capability of the clients.
I would add that physical and mental health are a massive side benefit of all of this. The clients may see Special Olympics as fun and a chance to go to another town and stay in a hotel, (Which many of them VERY rarely have the opportunity to do) but what we also see is a physically healthier person and a person who has more to look forward to, which improves their mental health.
And since I am writing a manifesto here, I will share one story from my past that is part of my basis for developing this program. I took three clients to Springfield once, they were receiving a Governors Hometown Award for their volunteer work. I told them I would take them to any restaurant they wanted to between Schaumburg and Springfield, to which they quickly requested McDonalds. I said, we could do that, but I would love to take them someplace even nicer, to which they got excited and asked “Wendy’s?” Well, I ended up asking them to trust me and we went to local restaurant in Bloomington. They were overwhelmed with excitement that they could order anything off the menu and someone actually brought their food to them. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life and I realized how much I take for granted when I go someplace and sit down to eat.
Whether or not all of the staff realize it, these examples are a summary of why I am so proud of what our day program team has accomplished
Director of Developmental Disability Services