Recently, I was on a trip across Colorado and stopped at my favorite café in Del Norte.
While seeking my refreshments there, I discovered a poster hanging on the back of a door. The poster, called How to Build Community, offered suggestions about things each one of us can do to build a stronger community.
Examples from the poster included: leave your house, know your neighbors, use your library, share your skills and hire young people for odd jobs.
Perhaps my favorite exhortation from this poster was: Know that no one is silent, although many are not heard. Work to change this.
To me, La Plata County is an excellent example of a community. It is a place where many people do leave their houses and spend time outdoors. It is a place where people greet each other on the streets. In La Plata County, we live, work and play with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds.
Yet there are still people in La Plata County who are not heard.
In my work at Community Connections, I encounter many people who have much to say, but are often not heard. Sometimes, these are adults with intellectual disabilities who either cannot speak as a result of their disability or have the ability to speak, but whose words are not valued. Other times, these are families who live with a person with a disability. They may be calling out for support, and no one seems to hear.
People with disabilities and their families run the risk of being isolated even within a community of caring people. For years, they may be waiting for state-funded programs. They may be physically isolated by the lack of accessible transportation. The more isolated people are, the less likely they are to be heard. And the less they are heard, the more vulnerable they are to violence, mistreatment, exploitation and neglect.
How do we work to change this?
At a time when we have grown increasingly dependent on state and other government funding to support people with disabilities and their families, this same support is growing increasingly volatile. If we are a community that values the voices of all members of our community, we can no longer stay silent on their behalf.
I offer these additions to our La Plata County Creating Community poster: Know what programs are available in your city and county. Speak to your elected officials about what is important to the health of our community. Learn about your neighbors not only the ones who live next door. Cultivate relationships with people who are different from you. Listen to children, elders and people whose voices are not often heard. Give to programs that support members of our community.
If you want to know more about how you can support children and adults with developmental disabilities in leading healthy and fulfilling lives in our community, contact Community Connections at 259-2464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.