Thursday, March 16, 2017
Hello everyone and welcome to our blog! Today, we would like to share some thrilling news with you – as of last month, Integrated Living Opportunities (ILO) has entered into a new community partnership. In today’s blog post, ILO Participating Family member and blog contributor Barbara Goldschmidt shares the exciting details.
ILO Partners with EDCJCC
written by Barbara Goldschmidt
We didn’t know what we were in for when we went to our first meeting at the Edlavtich DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC). Before we even moved to Washington, the EDCJCC was a place I had singled out. It had enough offerings—a fitness center, classes, pool, theatre productions, and many social groups—to fulfil almost every aspect of the whole life model we were aiming for.
I was particularly interested in EntryPoint DC, a group for young adults new to DC that would be just right for my 30-year old daughter Rachel. There was no menu item on the website for accommodations, so I contacted the director who put me in touch with Stacey Herman. That was when the magic started. What unfolded within a few months’ time was new programming at the EDJCC, as well as a partnership with Integrated Living Opportunities (ILO). And, oh yes, a website contact for accommodations.
The Timing Was Right
Stacey Herman had been waiting for the small spark of interest that we brought to our first meeting; it was enough to set her passion for inclusion on fire. Rachel and I met her at the center, a handsome building in sync with the elegant facades of its Dupont Circle neighbors. It turns out that although Stacey is currently director of school-aged programs, her education and training are in the field of special education. We explained that we were looking for a point person who could ease a newcomer into the group, helping to facilitate a connection. Stacey enthusiastically embraced our suggestion and had plenty of her own ideas, which she hoped we would help her bring to life.
Stacey worked diligently and within a few weeks there was a new item on the website: Inclusion & Disabilities. New programs appeared in the very next catalog (Winter 2017). But most importantly, Stacey spoke to every department at the EDCJCC to inform them about how and why they were adding new programming, what department needs were, and how the center could be more inclusive. She raised awareness, which is an invaluable process.
Inclusion and Integration
The programs being developed will include a variety of opportunities. “Our inclusion initiative is targeting more than people with physical or cognitive disabilities,” Stacey explained. “It’s about creating a welcoming place for everyone, including those who may feel left out or forgotten, such as seniors, those identifying as LGBTQ, or someone who needs support socializing. We’re an institution that serves our community, so I want to be sure that anyone who walks through the door can feel comfortable here.”
“For example, we may need specific programming for children with severe autism because that’s what they need. Someone in a wheelchair may require one-on-one help taking part in a fitness class. But sometimes individuals just want support in a social activity, like a happy hour or a community wide event like preparing food for shelters.” The calendar for the upcoming months includes a series of fitness classes (in partnership with Spirit Club), a mentoring program for employment (in partnership with Dreams for Kids), a cooking class, and bowling night. At the present time, Stacey is the contact person for anyone who needs accommodations. Her contact information is readily available on the new Inclusion & Disabilities page.
Do You Have to be Jewish?
You don’t have to be Jewish and you don’t have to be religious to enjoy what the EDCJCC has to offer. It is a true community center that encourages the participation of all people, regardless of background, sexual orientation, abilities, or religion. In fact, Stacey was telling us that the Sunday group meeting time was changed from 10:00 am to 11:00 am to accommodate people who want to go to church. It’s good to know, though, how Judaic teachings are at the heart of this openness and what they have in common with ILO families. Learning and awareness can flow in both directions.
A Guide to Jewish Values and Disability Rights explains that inclusion is grounded in B’tselem Elohim—the belief that every individual is imbued with a divine spark and is infinite in worth. Another tradition, Areyvut, emphasizes communal responsibility, reminding us that through caring for one another we foster a sense of interdependence that nourishes all. The guide, which is a worthy read for any disability activist, provides a beautiful definition of what we’re working for:
“Inclusion is a mindset. Inclusion is a way of thinking. It is how we behave and treat one another. It is a philosophy that embraces the idea that everyone has something of value to contribute and that everyone has a right to belong. When we commit ourselves to making our programs accessible—not just in the physical sense, but by ensuring that each person’s participation is truly meaningful—then we can call ourselves inclusive.”
The staff and board of the EDCJCC have certainly demonstrated their commitment to these values as they extend newly funded programs and accommodations to ILO self-advocates and others. We are truly excited to see what will grow from our common vision of an inclusive community.
Partnering with ILO
After a meeting between Stacey Herman and ILO founder Maedi Tanham Carney, it became apparent that there was a great potential benefit to work together. As a result, the EDCJCC became one of ILO’s first community partners. This is an exciting and promising step in the growth of ILO. As the ILO website states under “Building Community”, partnerships with community groups are a key part of support for our self-advocates. We continue to see that each step of our social experiment—whether it’s creating a “pod” group or generating social opportunities—begins with a vision that slowly takes shape as we join resources to support each other.
Contact ILO for More Information
Thanks for taking the time to visit our website and read our blog. We appreciate that you are interested in ILO and the work that we do creating community partnerships and building intentional, inclusive communities for adults with disabilities.
If you would like to learn more about ILO and how our networks of support work, please contact us! We are always looking to welcome new families into our existing networks, and grow our organization. For a more detailed explanation of ILO’s vision for our intentional communities, please take a moment to read The Future of ILO: Meet Pete and Darren, a fictional scenario of two ILO self-advocates, using real places, activities, and services in the Washington, D.C. area.