Engaging Families in Unleashing the Power of Community
By Katherine Carol
Graduation day has come and gone. The diploma, a thin piece of paper lodged in a sturdy glass and wood frame, capturing the triumph of hard work and accomplishments now hangs on a slim nail near the family pictures in the hallway.
Each morning starts as it did while your teenager was in high school. Wake up, get dressed and have breakfast, On this early fall morning, the temperatures still hold a summer’s heat, but the school bus doesn’t come. The senior year’s frenetic energy has been replaced by an eerily and unsettling calm. You think to yourself, “Now, what?”
The transition from school to adulthood is ramping up, but does it have a place to go?
Where your young adult goes is largely up to you and your family. Even with a well-orchestrated transition plan, the work continues. Your school experience was a sprint, supporting your child in adulthood is a marathon. Going the distance is made easier with a job, supported college experience or other more meaningful activities.
Start early. Create the expectation of work.
My last post discussed preparing for adulthood in elementary and middle school with the expectation of work. I suggested you prepare and submit the necessary paperwork to work through the eligibility process in various education, vocational rehabilitation, Social Security Income and Medicaid waiver systems.
As part of laying the groundwork for adulthood, you need a good story. The ability to share your experience can be the difference in going it alone or having the support of your community. A great strategy is to begin your story with a powerful dream or goal (the protagonist’s want), what obstacles you face in getting there (the antagonist) and what will result if you succeed or fail.
Be careful not to wrap your story up in labels and the severity of your child’s disability. Instead, shift the story from “getting through graduation” to “reaching for the American Dream” by pursuing employment and supported living opportunities. This story shows effort, investment and commitment to a better life. When you invest in your student’s future, the community will, too.
It can be a simple story like: “We are investing in our child’s future. He/she is exploring several work options right now. Would you like to hear what we are doing to make it happen for her/him?”
We change the story by changing the question and focus.
Naturally, all this feels overwhelming at first. I felt the same way after Mikelle’s graduation. Honestly, it is just as demanding to help our kids deal with boredom and depression as it is to help them with a business or job opportunity. Keep in mind, this does not have to be full time work, make it work for your student and your family.
Your rocket fuel in jump-starting adulthood for your child is your love. I want you to get more miles per gallon by leveraging your love. By sharing your love of your child with others, allowing them to contribute and make the world a better place. The community needs us as much as we need them.
Think Einstein! Remember him? Follow me as we re-imagine Einstein’s theory about the nature of matter and energy. Consider ENERGY as EMPLOYMENT and MATTER as MY COMMUNITY squared.
The secret to employment success is engaging your family’s community. Leveraging your love will increase employment outcomes exponentially. Fortunately, you have a superb resource right at your fingertips. The team at Full Life Ahead can assist you. They helped us.
You might be thinking, “Easy for you, Katherine.” It wasn’t easy for me. My throat tightened, I winced at the idea of asking for help, but you do what needs to be done. You always have. Your love will triumph over your fear.
Sharing your new story.
Let me share with you a simple story with a big impact. Mikelle’s transition plan lasted as long as the summer. It fell apart when fall arrived. Transition, for us, was like starting over from scratch.
As we resurrected Mikelle’s future, we constructed a relationship tree of friendships and acquaintances we shared. Our banker was at the top of list. Will, fresh faced as a high school basketball player inaugurated his banking career at the small branch nestled in the corner of our grocery store as a counter teller, then branch manager and later manager of the new and bigger branch located on Colfax Avenue.
As our banking relationship grew, we learned Will had a family member with a disability, cerebral palsy, just like Mikelle. Our connection with Will grew. When we need some ideas, we ask Will. Here is how we asked for his assistance:
“Hey, Will. I hope you know how much we appreciate the great customer service you and your employees offer Mikelle while she does her banking. She loves coming to the bank! I was wondering, could I ask you a question?” (Wait for the yes.)
“Mikelle wants to start a small business making and selling jewelry. We are inviting a few folks to sit down over pizza and brainstorm how we can help her get started. You work with businesses all the time. I am sure you have some ideas and valuable advice for Mikelle. Would you be available to come to our gathering of minds? Can I give you the date and time?”
Will came to Mikelle’s Group Action Session (now called H.O.P.E. Teams) facilitated by Judy and Henry Barclay and Lisa Manly. Joining our friendly banker were our favorite baristas, my hairdresser and his partner, Mikelle’s grandmother, a neighbor, and other good friends.
We were looking for ideas and answers and they could be found in the laughter ricocheting off the walls of our condo’s party room where we held our GAP Session. The Barclay’s and Lisa Manly captured every idea shared. Immediately, fueled by the power of love, Mikelle was on her way to starting her business. She reached all her major life goals within eight months. The positive intention of a group of caring people is astonishing.
- Center your attention on your family member’s strengths, talents and abilities.
- Pay attention to where and when they are curious.
- Engage you innate ability to be optimistic and open.
- Look for opportunities in your daily activities for possible work opportunities. Begin to see where your son or daughter might match their strengths with a business’s need.
- Obtain a map of your neighborhood and the nearby community. Walk or drive around with your family member and survey possible employment or business opportunities.
- List these ideas and share them with your H.O.P.E. Team. Ask them to add to the list.
You have your homework. Let’s recap before you get started.
- Change your story.
- Leverage your love.
- Invite your community to assist you and your family in this next crucial step.
- Sit down, fill out a Relationship Tree. (List friends and family.)
- Map your community for possible employment opportunities.
You are making progress! There is more to do. We will cover that in Part 3 of our series on employment.