Well, today did not go in anyway like I imagined. Not even close.
Let me back up a minute first...
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Parker's teacher. They were planning to take an end of the year field trip to visit places in other communities where adults with disabilities live to give the students (and their parents who were welcome to attend) an idea of what is out there. Even though Parker is just a freshman, they were wonderful enough to invite us along.
It seemed like a good enough idea for Parker to attend without me. He's a freshman. I have time to pretend like he won't grow up and move out for at least another couple of years, my participation could wait. Parker, however, had other plans for me and asked me to pleaaaasssse go with him (he knows I can't say no.) so, I agreed to go.
That brings us to today. I wanted to be excited about this. I did. For a couple of reasons but mainly because our school and teachers have the insight to set a trip like this up. Not all schools do and it's really, very important. This is an incredible opportunity for the students and their parents. I loved that they were doing it as a group, especially for the kids to know this was an option for not just them but their friends too. I really am extremely proud of our school for recognizing the importance of this and making it happen. Really proud!
That, however, was being pushed out of my mind today as I went to meet Parker and his class at school. My mind was focused on all of the other field trips I was seeing on Facebook that his friends were taking. They were going to visit colleges, government facilities, museums, theaters and more.. Yes, these field trips that also revolve around their future and area of interests. Here's what upsets me about this though... those are all places that will be a part of Parker's future too. Just not as a school field trip (at least this year). That is frustrating to me. Add that frustration to my already emotional (reality slap in the face that my son will need to live somewhere special when he's older) state and I was fighting my inner self to remain positive. Yes, I was tearful.
I managed to leave the tears in the office and pulled it together as I walked to the classroom and by the time I reached the bus, I was pretty much ok again.
I wasn't really expecting much today, well outside of disappointment. I was sure that I wouldn't see any place good enough for my son to live. I didn't really want to see that.. but I did.
Here is where my mind gets me into trouble. It thinks entirely too much. As I looked around and compared I pieced together that perfect place. I saw great one and two bedroom apartments, great commons areas and great programs. And each were all good places... none were Parker perfect.
And... there was more. We visited two workplaces in Bushnell run by Mosaic; Beth & Friends Gifts & Consignments and the Little Green Shed Furniture Restoration. These two visits blew - my - mind. This... YES, THIS is what I want for my son. Not necessarily a consignment shop or wood restoration shop - although to see the work they did, they'd knock your socks off! - but real jobs within the community, supported by the community. They aren't hidden away doing mundane jobs but in the public providing a service that gives back to the community too. That... that is missing completely in the town we live in. Completely. We have an awesome workshop that many of my friends work at as both employees and consumers. The consumers are loved, they are hard working, they are very proud. All awesome things. And this is perfect for some of them... but for others, and for Parker - the opportunity for more is not here.
This would be about the time my mind exploded and it has not stopped since. In 9 days Parker turns 15, my time is limited but my passion is not. I want to redefine the word and the meaning of "community" in the town where we live. I don't want to send my son to live in another town to have these opportunities. Oh, yes - I already know your argument. If he were a "typical" (whatever that means" individual he may have to leave the community to find the perfect place for him. Right. I get that. What I also get is he is not typical and while all parents worry, my worry is multiplied by a son who is easily taken advantage of, a son who will always require assistance. For that reason alone there is no comparison. That, and I'm beyond determined at this point.
Here is my vision for Parker's Place.... Parker's friendships are as important to him as his family so a group setting is great. I want to keep his friends here too, I don't want those friendships lost. I love the individual apartments with a community room in the center. But, I want a real... really nice community area - which brings my mind back to the Ronald McDonald House I visited while in Sacramento.
The community area needs to be large enough to be divided:
A TV/Movie area (couches/chairs/lounging)
A Gaming area (who doesn't love video games?!?)
A social area (foosball, air hockey, ping pong - up and moving stuff)
A reading nook (complete with books and books on tape)
A place to eat and cook together... an open kitchen/dining area.
A basketball hoop or two out back.
A yard, a place to plant a garden, flowers, let your pet run. (Of course pets are allowed!)
Yes, I want each apartment to be independent so if they want to cook, eat, watch tv, etc on their own - they can close off the world and do that. Independence is key. So is socialization. Both opportunities need to be there.
Even more importantly - and honestly, where the biggest challenge will come is in the jobs. This is where I plan to focus. The house is a pipe dream, do I want it? Yes. Is it important? Yes. Can I compromise on it? Yes. But the job opportunities... I'm not willing to compromise and therefore that will be my focus.
Finding jobs/businesses that can be run by individuals with disabilities, teaching each of them skills and providing long term employment plus room for growth of the business to accommodate others. It will need to cover several different levels of functioning. It has to provide a service needed by the community so the community can easily support it. And, also importantly, there needs to be options. More than one. We need increased employment opportunities at our current businesses. They need our support, we need to find businesses that compliment what is already here to provide more services that complete our community.
My mind is racing. Grants. Private Funding. Fund raising. ... It's simply racing. In time it will slow down and I'll narrow the focus.
Dream it or do it. God help me, I want to do it. For Parker. For his friends. For our community. We have a fantastic opportunity to be a leader, an example of what a fully inclusive community can be.
Others have done it. It's time we do too. It's time now. I can't keep letting the clock tick by, my little guy is growing up.
While today went nothing at all like I planned, I couldn't be more thankful for the experience it truly was and the inspiration I have been given. Funny how life works... isn't it :-)