After nearly 12 years with the Vinfen Family Advisory Council Kathleen Crawford has stepped down from her position as chair. Kathleen’s call to be an activist and volunteer in human services began with her own family. Her sister, Eileen, has Down syndrome. Kathleen’s parents as well as her siblings have always played an active role in Eileen’s life, ensuring Eileen is able to have a full, productive life.
While working for Vinfen, Kathleen became involved as a supportive staff member of the council. Once she left Vinfen, staff member Helen Fantasia-Arraj, who first had the idea for the Vinfen Family Advisory Council, asked Kathleen to become the Chair. “It was really innovative and a revolutionary idea,” said Kathleen. “Helen thought it would be really valuable for someone who is a sibling and not a parent lead the Council. It meant a lot to me that Helen asked me, and I could discuss what families were concerned about.” Indeed, during her tenure, Kathleen spoke about the important role of siblings for people with disabilities. It is no coincidence that when recruiting new members, the Vinfen Family Council always states that “any family member of a person with a psychiatric condition, intellectual and developmental disability, brain injury, or behavioral health challenge is encouraged to join. This includes parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, guardians, and other loved ones.”
“Kathleen helped shape important agency policy and plans, directed several new initiatives, and annually hosted Vinfen’s Family Celebration of Family Partnerships,” said Vinfen Director of Families and Advocacy Services Mary Beth Vargus.
One of Kathleen’s proudest moments while being Chair was creating a lobbying campaign for more services for individuals with disabilities. The campaign was called “Walk in Our Shoes” and it was done during a presentation to legislators at the Massachusetts State House. “It was really dramatic, we brought 100 pairs of shoes into the meeting to show what it’s like to be a person in a group home with no transportation. It felt so empowering to everyone who participated and how it came together was almost magical and how other agencies joined us.”
Kathleen will look fondly back at her time as Council Chair. “I’m grateful to be part of this,” said Kathleen. “Time just flew by. I cherish the people I met.”
While the Council bids farewell to Kathleen, they are proud that Family Advisory Council Member Serena Dee has taken over the position. Serena is a seasoned Council Member and already has successfully hosted Vinfen’s Family Celebration of Family Partnerships this past October.
“Serena is incredible capable,” said Kathleen. “She understands Vinfen as her son receive services. She is a physician. She knows how the system works. She has an inquiring mind and a steady personality. She’s bringing a fresh perspective, which is important time to time.”
“Serena has devoted much of her life to children with disabilities, chronic diseases, and mental health conditions,” said Mary Beth. “She is a retired physician and mother of a gentleman supported in a Vinfen home. She is committed to continuing Kathleen’s outstanding work and partnering with Vinfen on new and exciting projects.
Kathleen’s advice to Serena is to relax and have fun at the Celebration of Family Partnerships. While being Chair may be hard work, “It’s so rewarding,” said Kathleen. “It’s worth the hard work.”
If you are interested in joining the Vinfen Family Advisory Council, click here.