Sunday, June 13, 2010

Late Night Phone Calls

I experienced a few terrific days, after all, Dave Hingsburger was in Butler again and his words always inspire and reinvigorate! It was a terrific couple of days, filled with bustling activity and excitement, but afterward, something happened that shook me a little...details are not important. I spent Friday evening in my head, judging selfishness, power and control. I was ruminating, milling it over and over again. As I'm sure you know, this is not a good place to be.

Suddenly, on Friday night as I was watching a movie with the kids, the phone rang. I was startled, as it was my work cell phone, it rarely rings, especially this late. I didn't recognize the number but answered. It was a wrong number. Now one would expect that when a person gets such a call, the conversation is brief. I however, ended up on the phone with Delores for about 30 minutes. Delores is an older woman, having health problems and difficulty seeing. When she realized she had a wrong number, she became frustrated and started to cry. She explained that she was trying to call her grandson, but couldn't see the numbers to get it right. I tried to help her figure out what numbers were the right ones, and then she shared stories from her life. After 30 minutes, she sounded less frustrated and suddenly apologized for keeping me so long, I said it was Ok, I didn't mind at all. So, Friday night, I went to bed thinking of Delores, her life, her current frustration, her kindness...I had forgotten why I was so tense earlier.

Saturday came and it was busy. By Saturday evening, I was once again ruminating on the negative, worrying about what to do and what others do. I couldn't concentrate on the movie James had brought home. At about 10:15, my cell phone rang again. Once again I was startled and didn't recognize the number, but answered. Once again it was Delores. "Oh my, I called you yesterday didn't I? I'm so sorry, I just can't read these numbers!" She started crying. Again we spoke for a while, this time she told me about her husband the fireman, her adopted son and her grandson. She told me about her medical appointments coming up and her recent stay in the hospital. She told me about her frustration at not being able to do for herself at 84 years old. She also told me about all the kindness that surrounded her. The nurses who helped her during the day, the neighbors who go to the store for her, the "angels" she said she was fortunate to have around her. She included me in her list of "angels", because I didn't angry when she dialed the wrong number and I talked to her. She spoke of the importance of kindness and doing for others and how this was how she always lived her life, so she felt that in her hour of need she was being repaid....
Somehow, by the time I got off the phone I had her address and she was hoping I would visit. Once again, by the time I hung up, I forgot what I was worrying over.

While, Delores called me an angel, I think for the past two nights she has been mine, magically calling when I needed it most and allowing me to share kindness with a stranger. She has reminded me of my favorite lesson, that of giving to others. When we give selflessly, we forget the "self" but meet so many of our needs in the process. Delores and I have given to each other, I hope she calls again tonight....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hell In a Hand Basket?

My community is in an uproar, debates about death penalty abound and it seems that since news of Jennifer Daugherty's murder there have been numerous crimes in my hometown...a rapist dressed as a woman, a little boy broke a classmates wrist,we are on the news every night! It would be easy for me to become consumed by the chaos and hate currently swirling around me, but I can't.

I have read posts on news pages touting vengeance and preaching about the decline of society. I have read arguments of people who state that crime rates escalate because society is so "liberal", because parents don't spank, because we give people too many excuses...

Well, I did some reading today. Crime statistics have actually gone down. In fact, in the first quarter of last year violent crimes dropped in spite of a recession, when we would normally see rates increase. the truth is that in the last century we have gotten better at treating our fellow beings with dignity. Race and gender relations have improved and acceptance of the LGBT community has increased, I believe that in the next 10 years or less gay marriage will and should be legal across the States.

We still have a long way to go. People with disabilities are still devalued and experience abuse at staggering rates, the LGBT community is still persecuted and oppression abounds across the globe. The truth is though, that things have gotten better, it's sometimes hard to see, but it has gotten better. Just look at the person next you, go out into your community and observe the unspoken acts of kindness that happen every day.

So, while it's tempting to think that world is going to hell in a hand basket, the truth is that the human experience can be and often is so beautiful! While I and others continue to speak out against injustice, as we should, it is still important to look around with optimism. We have already come so far...we will make it the rest of the way. Maybe I'm too positive, but how would I get through the day if I weren't?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let's DO Something!

This post is written specifically to those on Candlelight Vigil in Honor of Jennifer Daugherty, and anyone else who wants to make a substantial difference!

"The press and media continue to largely ignore this issue. I know of only three significant stories on this issue over the last ten years. Most reports describe isolated crimes with no hint that there is a large, serious, and persistent pattern of violence directed against people with disabilities." Said Dan Sorensen who also stated "Crime and violence against people with disabilities is most likely the largest."

Jennifer Daugherty has captured our hearts and rage against those who tortured and killed her, and I propose that in Jennifer's honor and to prevent these things from continuing to happen to others, everyone speaking out for Jennifer can make a difference in other ways as well.

People with intellectual disabilities are 4-10times likely to be victims of crime compared to the non-disabled population and up 90% of people with intellectual disabilities are sexually abused, 49% of them experiencing 10 or more separate instances...society is largely unaware of these statistics because people with disabilities are devalued in our society.

People with disabilities in addition to being abused more than any other population are also extremely lonely which could result in dangerous friendships being made if at all...We could each channel the energy we have now into making a substantial difference in Jennifer's honor!

I propose that each of us befriend a person with a disability, lets start a volunteer organization that matches people with disabilities in the community with "mentors' or friends based on common interests. The benefits would be two-fold. First each of us would enjoy a quality reciprocal relationship with a person with a disability while breaking down the stigma attached to disability. Secondly, we could end the loneliness that so many people with disabilities experience, and provide a positive, meaningful relationship, possibly helping to protect someone from forging relationships with those who would abuse and humiliate.

Jennifer doesn't have to be forgotten, her story can become a catalyst for change in our community and others...I beg you all, let's not just talk about it, Let's do something!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Too Close to Home

Tragedy struck my hometown this week. The middle school which my son attends became the scene of a horrific end to life. Reports began with news that a body was discovered wrapped in plastic shoved in a garbage can in the school parking lot. Within a day news spread that the body was that of a 30 year old woman named Jennifer Daugherty who had been tortured for 36 hours before being dumped like garbage at the local middle school. As news of the events around her death began to emerge, something in my gut told me that she had a disability. Later, we were told this was the case. She was tortured and killed by six people, people who lived on the outskirts of society, people who themselves have been described as having disabilities from mental health disorders to intellectual disabilities.

The community has rallied around Jennifer Daugherty, shocked by her death and how close to home this hits. She is being described as "vulnerable" because she wanted so desperately to belong. Now everyone has an opinion about what should happen to the people who did this and what happened leading up to Jennifer's death. Some have even said that her family is responsible, because Jennifer is described as having "the mind of a 12 year old", so her family should have been supervising her more closely. So now we begin to blame Jennifer and her family, by calling her vulnerable and holding her parents responsible....

It was not by virtue of Jennifer's disability that she was "vulnerable," but by virtue of how this community and others view people with disability! The most common complaint of those with disabilities is that of loneliness, people with disabilities experience crime at double the rates of others. Why? because we don't value people with disabilities! All those who now rally around Jennifer without knowing her, would probably have paid her little attention in life. People are outraged and distraught by her death, they feel compassion for her and her family, yet when given the opportunity to befriend someone with a disability, they would probably have turned away. I write this not to condemn us of being heartless, but in the hopes that out of this tragedy can come understanding of how WE contribute to the countless crimes against people with disabilities. We don't do it intentionally, but we do it by turning away, by thinking it's someone else's responsibility, by denying all people their humanity.

I am hopeful that these tragic events will become a battle cry for people with disabilities, a forum through which they can scream "enough is enough" and for Jennifer and so many others, maybe the rest of us will finally listen!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


These are precarious times. The economy has declined, argument and debate have ensued over health care and other issues and for many a sense of apathy seems to be creeping in. Human service organizations here in Pennsylvania are struggling and afraid. Numerous changes, too many to count, have taken place within the State system and now there is deadlock over the State budget. This has left State employees without pay, and leaves numerous Social Service organizations in a state of fear. People sit back and wait...some complain...some are moved to action.

Apathy maintains the status quo, or diminishes prospects. Action creates change. I sit and think about how far so many communities have come, particularly the disability community. In the past 50 years alone numerous dramatic changes have occurred which created awareness and better lives. Whether through the action of parent groups, self advocates, or dedicated social activists, change has happened, dramatic change, yet currently we sit in a state of surrender. Haven't we come too far to give up now? Whether this or other issues are important to you, isn't it up to YOU to do something? None of us is helpless in any situation and haven't we yet learned the lessons of history? That even a few small voices can rise to deafening levels with enough passion and belief!

So, even if it's uncertainty about your own economic future, you can do something, cut costs, take a second job, maintain hope. If you're concerned about a social issue whether because you are personally affected or simply can not witness injustice, don't just sit back, do something! Change can and does happen, but only when we stand up and make it happen. So call your legislatures, make creative solutions, or spread awareness, but whatever you do, please don't just sit there!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


When I come home at the end of the day, no matter what that day has been like or how silly I may think myself, I am greeted by three children who run right to me for hugs. Behind them is my husband, hanging back to offer a peck on the lips and to ask about my day. I then enjoy stimulating conversation with my Mom. Whatever has happened throughout my day, I come home and find that I am cherished, loved and valued as the person I am. When I think about the almost 15 years I have been working in this field, I am hard pressed to remember people who have chosen services who have people to greet them at the end of the day and let them know they are valued.

Today I was talking with a man who struggled back tears as he spoke about someone he knows who he feels certain is being abused. This woman, who has chosen services, uses alternatives to spoken communication and people don't believe the things she does try to communicate(about the abuse), with the exception of this one man. He has tried to make sure people know, he has tried to make it stop, but because this woman can't come right out and say "I am being abused," she is being left right where she is and nothing is being done. It's partly because of the way our system is set up, but mostly it points to the lack of value we have for people with disabilities.

Don't believe that people with disabilities aren't valued? In this country we pay people in prison about 19cents an hour for work, I have supported people who worked at "workshops" and got a 19cent paycheck for two weeks of work...The R word still gets thrown around as one of the lowest insults one can be paid...People still tell me I must "be a really special person" to work in this field...Almost everyone I know with an intellectual disability has been abused, and of all those people, not one of them have seen their abuser behind bars....the list goes on and on.

So at the end of the day, I get to come home and be seen, heard and known as a full human being and know that I am valued...but somewhere else there is a woman coming home to get used and abused, even though people suspect valued does she feel?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sand Through the Hour Glass

Well, it has been a very long time since I posted anything. I didn't intend not to post, time just seems to have gotten away from me and with no spare time my creative juices have been running on short supply!

Speaking of time slipping away...My son will turn 13 in July. I don't know where the time has gone, and his becoming a teenager troubles me on a variety of levels. First of all I will officially be RAISING A TEENAGER, and frankly I'm not sure how qualified I am for that one, and secondly it reminds me that I too am aging and as I contemplate my own mortality I wonder what my existence on this planet will mean, if anything.

As a younger me, I had plans to change the world, at one time through music at another as some crusading marauder for peace and equality across the planet. Now I've found that I've come to a place where I'm still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. I know that I want to continue working and advocating for and with people with intellectual disabilities...but how? I keep going back to school as if the answer will somehow appear and yet I have no more clarity today than I did yesterday. I'm guessing that many people start question their place in the world at one time or another, so I know I'm not alone, but it's a precarious place to be...

But, what keeps popping into my head, as silly as it will sound, is some Miley Cyrus song (my kids love her, so I too am subjected to her music), and it says something about climbing a mountain, It's not about getting there, it's the journey...something cheesy along those lines anyway. Well here's the thing, while I'd love some macaroni with all that cheese, it's true! It is all about the journey, and I keep forgetting to stop and pick some flowers and take it all in, I've been too busy worrying about the end result. The end result doesn't matter, it's great to have goals, but when does life ever turn out like intended? Yet, somehow things have always seemed to turn out in some cosmic, Divine way that's always so much better than what I ever could have planned.

So I am taking some time right now to think about my journey and how it's made me into who I am and brought me to all the good in my life. Then I'm going to stop and take some time to enjoy the trip, because that's what life heck of an unbelievable trip!