We are in the midst of Holy Week in the Christian community and tonight marks the Passover celebration in the Jewish community. Normally we would be gathering with friends and family but life has changed at a dizzying pace over the last four weeks. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, it seems our culture is entering a period of massive reinvention. Social distancing has defined our entire existence, changed the way we enter these holy spaces, and many of us are wondering which of these changes will immortalize themselves as permanent cultural norms. For most of us, this is a dramatically new reality.
I want to remember, though, that for many people with intellectual disabilities, social isolation isn’t a new thing. Children with disabilities are often placed in separate educational tracks with limited access to friendships outside their small classrooms. Very few people with disabilities go on to college or vocational schools, where a lot of people develop their lifelong friendships. The employment rate for people with disabilities is an abysmal 19% and the other 81% are either in sheltered workshops or languishing at home.
I’ve said this publicly before but I’ll say it again because it drives the point home: a parent once said to me that her biggest fear (about her daughter’s life after she and her husband were gone) wasn’t whether she could brush her teeth independently, navigate public transportation, or even cook a meal by herself, but rather that she would eat dinner alone every night.
In this time of social distancing, especially in Holy Days that are intended to bring us in closer communion with God and with each other, let us be conscious that most of us will have the privilege of eventually choosing to end our social isolation and its accompanying loneliness. But there are many for whom social isolation will be a continued and harmful reality.
During this time of social reinvention what steps can we take to continue to build community among people with and without disabilities? What choices can we make to ensure the privilege of choosing to end social distancing is available to people with disabilities? In short, how can continue to Imagine Community Differently and ensure this experience leads us to greater connection, compassion, and community for people of all abilities?
Below in the Connexions section you’ll find some ways that we are actively contributing to this Holy social reinvention. I hope you’ll join us.
When it became apparent that coronavirus|COVID-19 began spreading to the US, L’Arche Atlanta reaffirmed its number one commitment to the safety and protection of our core members by responding immediately to the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and implemented preventative measures. To date, we have not had any cases or suspected cases of the disease. For this, we are tremendously grateful and in order to maintain that, we remain extremely vigilant in practicing social distancing measures. Day programs continue to be closed and we have developed alternative schedules to enable support of core members at home.
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Sonja. She was to be with us for a year through a German volunteer program, but recalled to Germany when Covid-19 broke out. While we are grieving her sudden departure and miss her very much we were grateful to celebrate and honor her time with us through our usual farewell liturgy via Zoom.
To ensure that we are keeping everyone safe and protected, we have paused dinners and community events. We deeply value our relationships and our wider community and miss those we aren’t able to see at this time. We are encouraging visits to happen by phone or video chat.
CONNEXIONS & 2nd HOUSE UPDATES
The outbreak hit just as we were launching a new program, CONNEXIONS. Designed to be small interest groups of people with and without disabilities who meet regularly over a shared activity, we are finding new ways of convening the groups virtually. Yesterday we had our first CONNEXIONS Trivia. 18 people participated and had so much fun that a 50-minute event stretched into 90 minutes of fun connection and friendly competition. This will now be a weekly event on Tuesdays at 2pm.
Trivia and other new virtual offerings will be made available in the coming weeks. In light of what I shared above, I encourage you to participate and consider joining some of the smaller group opportunities coming in the near future. You can sign up for trivia here. >>
Our plans for house two continue to progress. The Woodlands Garden finished paving the driveway last week and we are finalizing the details to close on the house ASAP. Thanks to your generosity, we are financially able to move forward with renovations. We will keep you updated.
A lot has changed in the last few weeks but our commitment to transforming lives by building community among people with and without disabilities remains steadfast. As always, thank you for your partnership and deep commitment to L'Arche Atlanta.
Peace to you and your family during this time,
Executive Director/Community Leader