Barbara Monday tells the rest of her story (for now!) about community living for persons with disabilities in Rome, Georgia.
The 1 Step @ A Time Dance Club was started when someone saw the need and volunteered to be the leader. Music is universal and everyone can move to the music in some way. Dance club meets once a month and membership has grown to 45-50 at each meeting. Admission is charged to help with the expenses of the recreation authority. Drinks and snacks are also sold at a nominal charge. The purpose is not to make money but to be self-supporting. It also provides a more real world experience where not everything is free. Everyone is encouraged to handle their own money and to make their own snack choices. Several members are on diets and are choosing water or a diet drink instead of a Coke and choosing pretzels instead of a candy bar or chips. Members help with manning the snack bar and learning to work quickly to serve everyone.
Music for dance club was originally provided by a DJ who volunteered his time. When he could no longer help, one of our members was able to step right in. He had been watching and helping all along and had gained the confidence to do it by himself!!!
Shawn listens to the other dance club members’ suggestions for music and prepares his play list. During the dance he supplies a lively commentary and makes announcements about birthdays and other news.
With what has been accomplished so far, DIGS has made a tremendous change in the lives of adults with developmental disabilities. Not only are there fun activities to talk about and look forward to, but true friendships have been formed. Other activities are planned by our adults such as going out to eat, shopping or to a movie. One mother of a young man turning 21 said through her tears that this was the first birthday party she had planned where people actually came. One young lady remarked that everyone she had invited came to her party, except for four and they had other commitments.
The goal of deinstitutionalizing adults and moving toward the housing model of the personal care home is to provide a less restrictive environment for our adults with disabilities. But placing them within the community does not guarantee automatic acceptance and inclusion. DIGS received a donation of land behind and beside two established neighborhoods. To celebrate and kick off a capital fund drive, a groundbreaking was planned at the property. We were met with angry phone calls, emails, a petition and signs of protest posted around the neighborhoods. Fears of lowered property values, vandalism and our residents left to wander their streets and harming their children were expressed. This type of protest has happened many times in our area and most likely other places around the country. Although dampened, it did not take away our joy of achieving this step toward our first home!
We considered what could be done to help calm the fears and educate people about our adults and found that just maybe we were already doing what we could and should be doing! The DIGS leisure opportunities appear to be providing a unique transition for both our adults and the community at large. With these activities, our adults learn skills that other adults enjoy. DIGS gives them the support and acceptance to learn and practice those skills along with guidance for appropriate behavior and any other associated social skills. Through these examples, the community is given the opportunity to meet our adults and to see them as people participating in a club….as people who are genuine and fun to be with…..as people who are not to be pitied or done for….but as people first, who just want to be accepted for who they are. Isn’t that what every one of us wants?