On April 2015, I attended my first Creating Our Common Wealth conference. Creating Our Common Wealth is a three year initiative funded by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, as well as University of Massachusetts Medical School. The purpose of this initiative is to inspire emerging leaders in the field. The trainings and conferences aim to help the participants better understand the importance of community inclusion and friendship for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
This experience has been a combination of learning and inspiration. I’ve learned about community mapping, friendship building, and the civil rights movement for people with disabilities. I have been inspired to promote friendships for people with disabilities in the community, specifically exploring the importance of developing natural supports at work. The role that staff plays in the process of friendship building at work is very important. One of my goals is to assist staff in better understanding how to facilitate these relationships, while not becoming too involved. To achieve friendship in the workplace, I’m also developing skill building activities for people with cognitive disabilities focusing on the “art” of water cooler conversation. The activity I have developed teaches people how to strike-up a conversation. The goal of building these social skills is so that people with disabilities will more easily engage in conversation with their coworkers.
Creating Our Common Wealth has also clarified the difference between being a “staff” versus being a true friend to someone. It’s increased my awareness of how I view friendship with the people I support and it has changed the way I initiate meaningful relationships with them. It has also inspired me to build these meaningful friendships within my own personal life.
Through this initiative I have met a mentor, Jim Ross, who has involved me in presenting a training at a college for people looking to obtain a certificate in human services. I also presented at a day program that focuses on employment. Additionally, I have been connected with Jack Yates, one of the organizers of Creating Our Common Wealth, who also chairs the committee for the Statewide Conference for Direct Support Professionals. I’m now on the committee for this conference. This conference, being held in October, is so important to honor and inspire Direct Support Professionals. I’d also like to recognize Vinfen Director of Training and Development Katherine Fox for nominating me for Creating Our Common Wealth, as well as being an exceptional mentor. Katherine Fox is a Regional Facilitator for Creating Our Common Wealth and on the committee for the Statewide Conference for Direct Support Professionals.
I am honored to learn alongside my colleague and fellow participant, Vinfen Senior Program Director Sydney Rives, as we represent Vinfen. This network of 150 participants and many incredibly knowledgeable instructors have created an environment of learning and collaboration. I am grateful for this opportunity to grow in the field and meet other people who care deeply about progressing social change for people with disabilities.