Connect

Connect

Connect includes personal stories, poems, videos and articles which describe the challenges and successes of individuals with disabilities and their families. The goal of sharing these stories is to spark ideas and conversation surrounding new ideas, challenges, or solutions that individuals with disabilities and their families face together.

We want to hear from you! Have you recently accomplished a goal that you’ve been working on? Have you run into an unexpected challenge along the way? Have you made any new friendships through an activity or program? Send us an email with your stories, pictures, and videos to be published on this page!

A Day at the State House

MA State HouseBy Charlie Fiske

The success of what we do with legislators and their aides can often be traced to our relationships with them.  This week Maura Sullivan (The Arc’s Director of Government Affairs) and I spent a morning walking the statehouse corridors with work sheets highlighting some spending requests for the senate’s budget plan.  The Arc is requesting $11.4 Million for the Employment Blueprint, which helps people transition to meaningful jobs and community inclusion. The Arc is also addressing the reduction in Adult Family Care (AFC). We hope to reverse the removal of reimbursement for caregivers days off (14 days = $700) per caregiver.  These requests are highlighted above the several other items we have advocated for over the past few months.

It seems that the moments of personal contact are when real communications begin.

Strangely, those brief moments don’t always relate to the budget or to developmental disabilities.  We met a senate aide whose son participates in the same drama group as Maura’s daughter.  The conversation centered on the importance of extra-curricular activities for students. Another conversation with a staff aide was about his Kingston high school where both of my children attended.  In addition talk turned to my time with the Peace Corps in Africa and he shared that this something he is seriously considering as his next option.

Later we sat with another aide whose sport’s activity is rowing and the accommodations he makes as a person confined to a wheel chair.  And finally there were the corridor conversations with a senator about his Facebook page and another representative about his previous job as a farmer.

All of these experiences are about communication and connecting with law makers and those working with them.  Our budget messages about intellectual and developmental disabilities seem to fall on more receptive ears once we have shared with each other and develop more points of contact.  Looking for what connects us is the first step in opening up the second conversation about our mission regarding some budget concerns needed to improve the lives of those served by The Arc.

When we forget the importance of listening first then what we have to say becomes harder to hear.

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The Selma Connection

selmaBy Judy Zacek

On March 7, 2015, the U.S. observed the 50th anniversary of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” when citizens in Selma, Alabama, began what they intended as a peaceful 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, the state’s capital, to press for removal of Jim Crow laws and practices that had deprived them of their legitimate right to vote.

As the marchers started to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River, they were met by a wall of state troopers and a Dallas County posse, who proceeded to attack the unarmed men, women and children. People were beaten, trampled by horses, and left lying on the bridge.

Photos of the vicious attack appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world, and CBS interrupted the broadcast of the film “Judgment at Nuremburg” to air a live report of what was taking place. The ironic juxtaposition of a film about the horrors of Nazism and the live report of the horrors of racism was clear and helped awaken our nation to the need for action.

In the days that followed, President Lyndon B. Johnson called on Congress to pass a strong Voting Rights Act, and Congress – in a bipartisan move – responded. Hundreds of thousands of previously disenfranchised African-Americans were able to register, vote, run for office and enjoy the same civil rights as their fellow citizens.

As the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” approached, the call went out for people concerned about issues such as voter suppression to come back to Selma, so along with thousands of others I spent the weekend of March 5-8, 2015 in Alabama. I was privileged to meet veterans of the 1965 Voting Rights Campaign, to visit some of the landmarks of that struggle not only in Selma but also in Montgomery and Birmingham, and to hear eloquent speeches by political leaders and sermons by inspirational clergy of several faiths. While honoring those heroic markers of 1965, they also delivered an important message: our work is not yet done. Indeed, with voting rights under attack as never before, we as a nation need to renew our commitment to assuring that all are treated equally and fairly.

Being in Selma reminded me that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often remarked that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that it is widely acknowledged that the civil rights movement led by Dr. King and others inspired the disability rights efforts.

That’s what I call “the Selma connection” to the work of The Arc. The specific focus may differ, but both movements seek to remove barriers to full participation in society. Both are fundamentally social justice movements – and both depend on a commitment to ongoing advocacy to achieve their missions.

There have been many positive advances since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, and there have been many remarkable improvements in the lives of people with disabilities and their families since The Arc movement began in the 1950’s. Those accomplishments came about because people of vision and determination were willing to come forward and push legislatures – and society – to do what was right.

In the year ahead, The Arc of Massachusetts will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding. This anniversary will provide an opportunity to look back over six decades and honor those whose vision, energy and support have brought about so many improvements in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It will also foster an awareness of how much more needs to be done.

In the months ahead you’ll be hearing more about The Arc of Massachusetts’ plans for celebrating its 60th anniversary. I hope you will join with us in renewing your commitment to improving the lives of those we serve.

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Working with Senator Eldridge: Melissa Reilly

bill signing

Bill signing with Governor Patrick at Fenway Park in October 2014

Senate President Therese Murray began her remarks by giving special recognition to Melissa Reilly an Office Aide for Senator Jamie Eldridge. Fenway Park was the setting in October for the signing of three significant bills to benefit those with disabilities. Melissa was complimented for her hard work and her friendliness in the State House. Murray noted that everyone deserves the opportunity to work and feel productive. The bills awaiting Governor Patrick’s signature had strong legislative support. Melissa who has Down syndrome knows the importance of her job as well as the satisfaction she feels as an active worker for Senator Eldridge. A recent Facebook post by Melissa describes what her State House employment means:

“What a great bunch of co-workers to be working with and what a great Senator to be working for. I am so honored to be working for Senator Jamie Eldridge. I still cannot believe I am actually working as part of your staff. Thank you again for hiring me. You are my best friend, boss and Senator I could ever ask for.”

 

melissa and eldrige

(L to R) Minney Varghese – Legislative Director, Michael Carr – Chief of Staff, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Melissa Reilly – Office Aide, Danillo Sena – District Director/Scheduler and Megan Montgomery – Communications Director

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State House Advocacy

Scott at the State HouseBy Scott Lentine

Last week, I visited the State House offices of some state legislators to discuss autism issues and to get to know them on a personal level. My first stop was the office of the Canton Representative William Galvin. I talked to him about The Arc of Mass and how they help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities get additional resources in Massachusetts. I mentioned to him that I have cousins who grew up in Canton and asked him if he knew them. He said he did not. Next I went to the office of my representative, Marc Lombardo of Billerica He was out of the office that day, so I left him a note detailing who was and gave my phone number where he could contact me if he had any questions.

One of the highlights of my State House trip was meeting Melissa Reilly, an aide with Down Syndrome, who works for Senator Jamie Eldridge from Acton. I told Melissa about my autism and mentioned that I work at The Arc of Mass in Waltham, where I advocate for support of legislation that would expand the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities. She encouraged me to try to work for a legislator so that I continue to convince other legislators to back important legislation that would support those with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

Next I visited the offices of Hingham Representative Garrett Bradley and Ashland Representative Tom Sannicandro. They, along with others, were major supporters of the recently signed Autism Omnibus Bill. Though they were out of their offices that day, I spent time talking with their aides and thanked them for supporting the legislation that would expand autism resources in the Commonwealth. I also stopped by the offices of Bedford Representative Ken Gordon and Brockton Representative Michael Brady. I got a chance to go to Senator Ken Donnelly, my own state senator. In each office visited, I left a letter telling them of my visit and thanking them for their help. I left my phone number in case they wanted to call me. The next day Rep. Bradley called me and thanked me for my visit to his office.

The trip was beneficial for me since it gave me a tremendous opportunity to meet some legislators who helped pass the Autism Omnibus Bill. Also it gave me a chance to talk about autism to some who might be unfamiliar with the symptoms of autism. I told some personal stories of my life on the autism spectrum and mentioned the names of relatives I have that live in some of their towns to try to build relationships with the politicians.

The legislators and aides were very receptive towards me and by my having autism it allows them to gain a better understanding of a person with high-functioning autism. Everyone I met listened to my ideas about how there needs to be better resources for people on the autism spectrum in terms of health care, employment, social, and educational opportunities. In so many ways, it is not always to easy to live with autism because I have found it difficult at times making new friends due to the fact that I do not drive and there is limited public transportation in my town. I felt it was very important to share some of my experiences with the staffs to help dispel the stereotypes that many people still have of those with autism.

I fully recommend that other people with autism or other developmental disabilities visit their legislators’ offices in the State House. By connecting with legislators and their staffs on a personal level, I am educating politicians about the struggles that people with disabilities experience on a regular basis.

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Poems by Scott Lentine

All Aboard The Arc! Anthem

Breaking down barriers
Opening up doors
Letting every individual’s opportunities soar
This is what All Aboard The Arc stands for

Changing norms that is the goal
Making sure society does not leave us out in the cold
Struggling every day to gain equal rights
Obtaining this vision through passion and might

I’m taking this journey with you
I want to be a member of your crew
I am pleased that my ideas have gained a new world view
Together we can see our dreams come true

We are here at All Aboard The Arc! on the 18th of May
Your participation helped make this a bright day
You can see individuals demonstrate their true abilities
All in part for a great charity.

 

The Ode to the Autistic Man
Try to understand the challenges that I face
I would like to be accepted as a human in all places
Where I will end up in life I don’t know
But I hope to be successful wherever I go
I would like to expand my social skills in life
Making new friends would be very nice

Stand proud for the autistic man
For he will find a new fan
I hope to overcome the odds I face today
Increased acceptance will lead me to a brighter day

By the age of 20, I will have made tremendous strides
I know in the future, life will continue to be an interesting ride
I have made new friends by the year
I will be given tremendous respect by my family and peers
I hope to get noted for bringing the issue of autism to the common man
So that autistic people can be accepted in this great land

Stand proud for the autistic man
For he will find a new fan
I hope to overcome the odds I face today
Increased acceptance will lead me to a brighter day

 

Scott Lentine will have two other poems and an interview featured in an upcoming edition of the Advocate.

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