Love, Permission, Humor and Communities in 2016

By Katherine Carol

We are born to love. Period. We are designed for belonging.

and yet, this holiday season, many individuals and families with disabilities feel the bite of loneliness and isolation.

Like the rest of the world, people with disabilities want to celebrate family and friendship. 

Kristin, Mikelle, Jerome and Ian

Each year, Mikelle and I count our blessings. Mikelle’s annual holiday party is one our most cherished and enduring seasonal traditions.  This year makes the 11th Annual Party.

Each year old friends, roommates and family gather in her small living room around the Christmas tree.

I have come to appreciate the enduring nature of Mikelle’s community and want to share with you some of the gifts we find under her tree this holiday season.

#1: Love

Human services system can express sincere concern and even love, the system is unlikely to reach the levels of true friendship and deep family connection.

Kari and Susi. Roommates of Mikelle’s in 2006 and 2007.

The truth is love keeps friendship growing. Witness it as Susi and Kari come bearing gifts of Starbucks cards, Fireman Calendars and hugs. They were roommates from 2006 and 2007.

Kasey, Mikelle’s brother, Jack, her nephew and long time friend, Jerome.

Mikelle’s old friend, Ian was a college graduate and barista in 2004 when he and Mikelle became friends. Eleven years later, now a married man and expectant father, he revels in a holiday Bronco party with old friends Jerome, Mikelle’s high school friend and her brother, Kasey in cheering for the team. Jay is the newest member of the circle and comes with Taylor, one of Mikelle’s forever sisters and former roommate. Fortunately, he is a Bronco fan, too.

Love endures. And, there is no reasonable substitute for it.

Without love—the love of work, the love of community and the love of family life is less meaningful. Policies and providers can deliver much needed expertise in negotiating the complexities of rehabilitation and education, they can’t provide enduring communities.

But, what if it were the goal at the top of each IEP and Transition Plan? Goal: To Build an Enduring Community of Support for this individual.

#2: Permission to Be

New friends and roommates. Shannon, Nayema, Michelle.

I have noticed over the years Mikelle’s unique ability to bring people from all over the world together in her tiny living room. Mikelle, just by being herself, offers the gift of self-acceptance and personal empowerment to her friends with PHD’s, marathoners, and various careers.

When these friends get together, personal facades fall, professional armor melts and people just become people. One thing I have noticed, inclusive communities are safe communities.

#3: Humor

You can spot an inclusive community by the good natured laughter you hear. How much laughter do you hear at the meetings you attend for your child? Exactly, that is why creating a community is critical to your child’s happiness.

We have found having a focal point for bring people together is helpful. A birthday, a football party or an outdoor barbeque is better than a meeting or a “get together”

Find an interest or passion you and your family can share with others. It might be a Star Wars party, an Oscar viewing night or even a Solstice Party. Have attendees bring treats, a favorite dish or just themselves, the point is to have fun and find a common interest to bring people from different walks of life together in a festive way.

Reflecting back to this year’s party, I watched out little community with amazement. It is a rich, diverse and kind community—and it was Mikelle who brought them together in enduring friendship.

In truth, it takes commitment and deliberate actions to build an enduring community, but as you can see by the photos, it is a worthwhile investment.

We are always seeking ways to improve, expand and refine our supports for Mikelle. Each year brings new gifts and new challenges.

We are excited about 2016 and hope you are, too!