Friday, May 24, 2013

The Female Dynamic Duo

Preparations for the 2013 Spread the Word to End the R Word campaign were well underway in late fall 2012.  In planning for the campaign, I wanted to find a way to reach more elementary schools, in which we really didn’t have a presence.  We offered an hour-long power point presentation used in the middle schools for 6th – 8th graders.  One Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) community member was already going into the elementary schools to read a couple of storybooks, usually to Kindergartners and 1st graders, using her communication device.  I wanted a similar presence in the elementary schools with the No R Word campaign.

Shelly’s consistent offers to help with whatever we had going on in the Marketing & Development department jumped to the front of my brain as I pondered this challenge.  The idea of involving someone from our Campus in a shorter classroom presentation came to me, inspired by the dynamic Handicap This! duo of Mike Berkson and Tim Wambaugh who recently came to Owensboro to do a show.  I was unsure about a number of things, including whether Shelly would feel comfortable talking before a group of people AND whether Shelly even liked kids or not!  To find out, I struck up a conversation with her one day while she sat at the receptionist’s desk asking her about whether children came up to her with questions about her wheelchair or her disability, and how she felt about it.  Her enthusiastic answers reassured me that Shelly was the right gal for the job to help us spread the word in the elementary schools.  She acknowledged and respected children’s curiosities, pointing out she didn’t mind answering their questions.  She said she liked children, and that she’d rather they ask her questions than stare at her and wonder.  I left the conversation feeling we (WFC and its Spread the Word Campaign) were on the verge of something huge and exciting!
After taking some time to discuss my idea with my supervisor and the Supports for Community Living folks who would be actively involved in supporting Shelly in this endeavor through transportation, I approached Shelly with the idea of helping me with a No R Word program for elementary children.  To my pleasured surprise, Shelly excitedly latched onto the idea, and we agreed to get together after the first of the year and talk about what our “dog and pony show” would look like.

It would’ve been very easy for me to decide everything – what we say, how we say it, what we do – in this new No R Word presentation, and it was very tempting!  But, it wouldn’t have been person-centered.  As an organization that is challenging itself and its staff to be more person-centered, I had to temper my “creative” self to ensure this was truly a JOINT project with Shelly.  After further contemplation, I realized that this task wasn’t just about creating a presentation to do in the schools, it was giving Shelly an opportunity to have her voice; and more importantly, to be a voice for all of those on our Campus, and within our community who can’t speak up for themselves.
In January Shelly and I sat down and just talked. What about? Simply put, Shelly.  I wanted to know why she agreed to take on this gig, what excited her about it, what her apprehensions were.  I wanted to know who Shelly was, get to know her life story, what made her tick.  More importantly, I wanted to know what was important to Shelly that people understand about her, others with disabilities, and her feelings about the R word.

Out of this meeting, our No R Word presentation was born!
In the Next Blog Entry:  A “Dog and Pony” is Born - "Shelly brought simplicity to the CP explanations, and further found her voice through edit suggestions of her part.  With some encouragement, Shelly began to take co-ownership of this presentation, and full ownership of her message she wanted to share."
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