It finally hit me.
Those of us who have fully stepped into the new work Starfire is doing (3C’s, 5VE) are able to do so only because we admitted we were powerless over a service system that has been unable, through traditional service models, to address the issue of social isolation among people with developmental disabilities.
Yes, that’s it! We admitted we had a problem……our problem was that doing 1 thing for 17 years produced no sustainable relationships among people with and without disabilities (51ppl). We are no longer satisfied with keeping people alive, helping people have fun, providing opportunities for people to volunteer “for them” and move on. That mindset inherently devalues people’s lives- we believe there is more to be done.
Something else also hit me- parents argue that what we’re doing does not address their need for respite. They are right. There, I said it. We are not in that business anymore- we were for 17 years and people are still isolated, lonely and not included in their communities.
Our call to action has changed, our moral compass is pointing us towards radical community building that, over time, will create a future we believe in; where the gifts of those most marginalized will be recognized, nurtured and celebrated by all.
But let me back up…fully stepping into this work…
Through understanding that we have a problem (unknowingly contributing to the social isolation of people with disabilities) we then had to believe that there are people in the community who want to be a part of the lives of people with disabilities.
This was a hard one- if people with disabilities are continually devalued by what society inherently values (beauty, strength, power, wealth, intelligence) then how could others see “them” as anything other than a burden? Takers? Clients? Only people that I would want to hang out with, not other people…..? Well, we started by getting over our assumptions about what other people want/need/believe. We stepped into a belief that there is something bigger out there that we had not yet explored, that the service system had not provided for us.
I understand the definition of insanity to be doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. In this case we made a decision to live our lives in a new way and by aligning ourselves with an inclusive community building initiative as we understand it (3C’s).
In order to follow this path and not get sucked down a road of defeat, pessimism, and negativity we had to make a fearless inventory of our gifts, talents, fears, worries and values. This exercise helped us to be honest with how we’ve contributed to this problem of social isolation; forgiving ourselves for how we’ve, knowingly and unknowingly, contributed to the problem. Damn that was hard……we felt bad, hurt, defensive, and stuck at times. However, after realizing that we’d made it through the worst of it, we were able to move on and stop making excuses.
The only logical next step was to stop assuming that we were a burden on others. We had to let this go. We were NOT a burden by inviting citizens to come teach classes, meet us for coffee, tell us their story about what is important to them, invite them to join a collaboration project or any other invitation we threw their way. After all, the worst that could happen was that they would say no. Luckily for us two things happened: 1) Most people said YES! and 2) for those moments when people said “no” we were supported by others doing this good work who could help us find the silver lining to every situation. Where were these eternal optimists? 3C’s gatherings, families, Starfire members and staff- if we asked, reached out, or showed up, there was support.
For some reason getting to this point was the hardest journey most of us have ever been on but now the ball was rolling. We started to make a list of people we knew, those who were closest to us physically and emotionally, those who we knew but had never connected with, and those who we knew knew other people that we might want to know! We started interviewing people to get to know others by their gifts and interests. If we believed that people with disabilities had gifts and interests unique to them then that would mean ALL people and ALL communities had something beautiful and unique about them as well!
We continued to show up and be curious; when the learning challenged us we promptly admitted it and looked for support in shifting our thinking. Damn again! This required us to be vulnerable!!!!!! Pain bodies arose, past experiences told us to run, go back to the old way THIS IS ALL TOO HARD!!!!!!!!! But as our inclusion warrior spirit battled towards what we know to be true- people with disabilities deserve amazing big lives full of people who share their passions and celebrate their contributions to the world!- we forged on. We did not follow a path laid out for us by a service model, we did not follow a path shown to us by others doubts and fears- we set out on actively creating our own path and became continuous learners and decided to take charge of our own learning journey.
What does that even mean? To take charge of our own learning journey? Well, we decided to fill our lives with learning opportunities that would challenge our growth and our assumptions. Every Thursday from 3:00-4pm we are going through a series of eight-week learning sessions to help us be more open to the change we are undergoing. We are studying asset based community development (ABCD), mindfulness, facilitation and many other topics that help us step out of a ‘disability context’ and into a community building context. We ask a lot of questions, and wrestle with our answers to make sure we’re continually being guided by what we know to be true: currently, no one is in the business of helping people expand their social circles, therefore, we have to be fearless leaders. And finally, if community building looks to INCLUDE all people in the fabric of community life and “disability work” inherently segregates and congregates people who share a devalued label, then we need to seriously reconsider where/who we go to for growth and support.
Having experienced a shift in consciousness as a result of these steps, we became mentors to others through one-on-one coffee dates, large group gatherings of supported, yet challenging conversation topics, and through sharing our learning in written and verbal form.
And this is the real work. How do we meet people where they are, accept their resistance to change, be patient, kind listeners to real concerns they have that affect their daily lives all while inviting them on a journey they didn’t ask to go on?
Well, I think we (those of us who have gone on this journey) simply do the following:
- Meet people where they are
- Accept the resistance to change
- Be patient, kind listeners to real concerns that affect peoples’ daily lives
- And continually, and creatively, invite them on a journey that has proven to change peoples’ lives for the better
“Guide on how to be a radical community builder”
- We admitted we were powerless over a service system that has been unable, through traditional service models, to address the issue of social isolation among people with developmental disabilities.
- We believe that there are people in the community who want to be a part of the lives of people with disabilities.
- We made a decision to live our lives in a new way and by aligning ourselves with an inclusive community building initiative: Starfire’s 3C’ gatherings.
- We made a fearless inventory of our gifts, talents, fears, worries and values
- We are honest with how we’ve contributed to this problem of social isolation; forgiving ourselves for how we’ve, knowingly and unknowingly, contributed to the problem.
- We’re entirely ready to move on and stop making excuses
- We’ve stopped assuming that we’re a burden on others
- We made a list of people we know
- We started interviewing people to get to know others by their gifts and interests
- We continued to show up and stay curious. When the learning challenged us we promptly admitted it and looked for support in shifting our thinking
- We became a continuous learner and decided to take charge of our own learning journey
- Having experienced a shift in consciousness as a result of these steps, we became mentors to others