In my previous blog entry
, I wrote of the importance of community for individuals and families who experience a special need or special health care need. To follow up on that topic, I’d like to explore a little bit about what components we can look for or cultivate in creating and sustaining community. As a parent and a professional, something that I often find myself doing is looking for existing strengths as an opportunity to build community. For a child, this strength might be a hobby or game, such as Minecraft: that’s definitely something kids can come together around! For a community, an existing strength might be a fantastic parks system or even a parent network.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time in the beautiful Central Washington city of Moses Lake as part of a state-wide series of trainings for primary care providers and community outreach professionals for our work with children and youth with special health care needs. These trainings are in collaboration with the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
. During my visit to Moses Lake, I found a great deal of community strengths for positive child development! From Birth to Three
, to Family Services
, to Integrated Services
, to Inspire
, there are many local resources available to families. It was wonderful to see how these agencies work together to support a community of families and the people they interact with, such as teachers, home visitors, speech and occupational therapists, support groups, recreation groups, and medical providers.
One community member that I had the great pleasure of meeting is Deborah McVay
, also known as the Library Lady. In her outreach role with the North Central Regional Library, she has been facilitating connections between families and agencies for over 20 years over several counties in Central Washington. She has a wealth of long-term community knowledge that helps strengthen the families she works with, and in turn strengthens the community. It is an important mutual relationship, especially in a region where communities and individuals can be less connected geographically. Deborah bridges that distance with her outreach. She also works as a liaison between families who are new to the language and region, and helps them prepare their children for school.When I asked her what she thinks makes her work so successful, she answered
“Families trust me, they know me. I might come for story time and also show them how to help their kids become more ready for kindergarten. For example, if they are making chili for dinner, I encourage them to cut out pictures from the newspaper to make a grocery list that their children can participate in.”
In this very accessible way, Deborah is finding the existing strengths in her families and fostering tools for early literacy.
Another example of individuals acting as community liaisons are the proprietors of the Red Door café. The Red Door is a welcoming space for the community at large, as well as a space for groups such as Parent to Parent and the Down Syndrome Society of Grant County to gather and build individual, family and community strength. In my conversation with co-owner Lisa Boorman, I learned about how the community has grown over the years in terms of what families can access for support, and how some of the larger structures such as the School District and the Boys and Girls Club are becoming more inclusive of ability diverse kids and families.
Afterward, while riding the public bus through town, I learned from the bus driver/informal tour guide about the newly built Community Services Office and all the important services that individuals and families can access under one roof: food benefits, developmental disabilities administration, financial assistance, and more. It was a great example of how something that could be perceived as a challenge – a smaller town with less infrastructure than bigger cities – is actually a strength. The tight knit network of community members and service providers within this rural community facilitates a feeling of no wrong door. Whether you are at the library, school, pediatrician, café, and yes, even on the bus, the chances are good that someone knows how to get you connected to support.
When a community comes together in solidarity and support of its members with special needs, everybody benefits. As this season of gratitude and generosity begins, let’s try to think about how we can connect with our community in a more intentional way and create space for all families to succeed.