Elin Howe’s Speech

Creating Our Common Wealth
April 27, 2015

Good morning everyone. I am pleased to welcome you to this two day kick- off event that I for one consider “ground breaking”. I don’t mean the kind of “ground breaking” some in this room witnessed in our past —the kind where a legion of politicians were photographed using a big shovel to start the foundations of new buildings at places called Belchertown, Monson, Fernald or Dever. Those foundations were built with concrete but they led to something far more profound for the people living within the buildings – an ideological foundation of a service system that resulted in segregation, isolation and inhumane conditions for those who lived there. It took litigation in this state and others to address these problems.

We have come a long way since then but have not come far enough. Behind the conceptualization of this institutional service system were well intentioned citizens who believed that compassionate care and support were to be a hallmark of their work, never thinking that these good intentions were going to devolve in the negative way they did. The work we have been about since early 1970s has been to redress these wrongs by creating opportunities for individuals to become integrated into the community through various service structures such as “group homes”, “day services”, “sheltered employment” and so on. We too were well intentioned in our system design but looking at the system we have created it is becoming apparent that we have not fully addressed the core issues of full participation of the people we support in the communities they are now living in. Furthermore, we have not fully recognized and supported families who have an individual with intellectual disability living at home despite the fact that these individuals are in many ways more fully integrated community members than those who do not live with their family. But, because of our history and decades of addressing that history, we are much clearer about what our work on behalf of people with disabilities should be going forward. Today, we look to use Person Center Planning as a catalyst to individualize supports and services for people. We want those we support to be active members of their communities and to have the kind of friendships and relationships we all value. We want them to work in the community and/or to have meaningful and purposeful and experiences in a day services program that is integrated into their local community. We want people to have a broader range of housing options such as shared living and supported housing rather than just traditional community residences, from which to choose where and how they want to live. And for families, our goal must be to better support them so that they can maintain their family member at home with them.

What is “ground breaking” about today is that this is the first truly organized effort we have made to build a new foundation for our future, one we want to build with each and every one of you. You are here today because someone has seen the spark you carry within yourself that reflects passion and commitment to this work. Someone has said yes to the question, “is this a person who can become a leader, who can shape the future in ways that can build better lives with and for people with developmental disabilities?” You have been chosen to break new ground.

Over these next two days and in a series of up-coming activities our goal is to support you to gain a deep understanding of how important it is to build community in the lives of those we support. Isolation, one of the building blocks in the old service foundation, continues to persist in ways that often leave people lonely and disengaged from their community. Yes, individuals live in the community but too often are not yet of the community.

Acknowledging the importance of community building is one thing, but just how one goes about creating community is another. We are pleased to be able to bring together some terrific people to help us learn about worthwhile strategies and to facilitate our own best thinking about creating community. We are joined today by national and international experts, Beth Mount and Michael Kendrick, Deb Reidy, a recently published author who is acting as a Senior Planner for this initiative and leaders from our own state who will share their stories about transformation and positive change.

And why are we continually looking to change? Because of a parent telling us at a Quality Council Meeting about how his son, at age 20, had a friend over to the house just to hang out with him for the very first time in his life. He was so moved by sharing that story that he went on to implore us to do more to help that happen for everyone. And we listened when some of you here today talked about the barriers you faced in involving people in their community at last November’s Direct Support Conference. Your questions and comments further convinced us of the need for change and for better support of your and others’ work to make certain that individuals are truly included in their community.

Creating Our Common Wealth is the name of this initiative. It says a great deal about what we want for people we support. We want to see individuals blessed with bountiful relationships and active engagement with the communities they live in. When they achieve this, they will be contributing to, and sharing in, the true wealth we have in common.

Enjoy these two days and all of the activities connected to this initiative and may the spark that has been seen in you grow even brighter. I plan to be back to see how everyone is doing when we reconvene in October. And remember – we can never stop improving when it comes to supporting individuals with disabilities.