Family and Professional Connections: Promoting Self Advocacy at the Arc of Whatcom County
Through our work with special health and developmental resources, WithinReach has had the great pleasure to partner with agencies such as the Arc of Washington. The Arc is part of a national network dedicated to advocacy, community building, and resource referral for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Washington has nine chapters in King, Snohomish, Whatcom, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Kitsap/Jefferson, Spokane, Benton/Franklin, and Clark counties.
Part of the advocacy work that the Arc does is to support the perspective and rights of self-advocates, who are individuals with disabilities. To hear more about this important work, we reached out to Jessika Houston, Down syndrome Outreach and Young Adult Self-Advocacy Coordinator at the Arc of Whatcom County. Jessika was gracious to share with us her personal connection to this work, and what it means to her to be in this role:
“My work at The Arc directly relates to my personal life, as I am the sister of a young adult with Down syndrome, Mike. Mike has truly been one of the largest sources of inspiration for me and the path I have taken. I could not be more grateful for him in my life, for all that he has taught me and my family. From him I have learned persistence, patience, compassion, acceptance, resilience, will and grace, and the beauty of living in the moment. When I think of the strengths of living in a neurodiverse family, it comes back to those qualities in him that he has the ability to teach everyone that crosses his path. With him, there have always been moments that we wish we could just capture and visit any time we wanted – the moments that make you love life and trust exactly where you are.
And, in thinking of the challenges – those same qualities can come through, in a different light. The moments when Mike is so frustrated, trying to find the way to articulate what he needs or wants, and seems so tired and overwhelmed with…persisting, having patience…when acceptance of the situation cannot happen and the will takes over…those times are when you wish the moment would just end. There are also challenges that come from those that may not know about Down syndrome and how to engage someone with a disability. Yet, it is the moments of challenge that seem to inspire me the most.
After he was born, I found myself asking questions like: Why are people so afraid of what is different? How can I help? How can I learn about other perspectives? How can I be a resource to my family, my brother, my community?
I first learned of The Arc when I worked as a Living Skills Specialist for a supported living agency in Bellingham. My brother, without knowing it, inspired me to work there so I could learn more about what life as an adult can look like, how to advocate with and for someone, learn about independent living, how to help navigate the supports in someone’s life and discover what resources exist in the community.
In the Young Adult Self Advocates program, we talk about our visions, our goals and aspirations, and acknowledge the challenges and barriers that might exist. Self-Advocates are involved in community awareness projects, as well as focus on their individual skill building. They are also passionate about advocating in legislation for their individual needs, which also reflects needs in our community such as employment, housing, recreation, caregiver wages, among others. They aim to “Be Proud. Be Strong. Be Heard.“
If you are interested in learning more about the Arc of Whatcom County and the Young Adult Self Advocate program, visit http://arcwhatcom.org
Tags: Advocacy community community resources Developmental support Disability Down syndrome education programs Independent living intellectual & developmental disabilities Resources Special Health Care Needs The Arc Whatcom County Young Adult