Choosing to Stay Involved in Your Community

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This week I introduce John Anton, a self-advocate who is an inspiration to others as he works hard to make a difference in his local and statewide community.

I sent the following questions to John about his role as a civic activist; he and his support advisor, Fran Hogan sent the answers.

John, please tell us about yourself.

“I am a Legislative Intern for State Representative Tom Sannicandro and a Legislative Advocate and Mentor at The Arc of Greater Haverhill/Newburyport. I am also on the Disability Law Center Board, a member of the Haverhill Trails Committee and am active in my church.”

How did you first become interested in issues in your community?

“When I graduated from high school I went to a sheltered workshop. We didn’t have enough work to do and it was very boring. I got jobs at fast food places and Market Basket, but I didn’t fit into any of these jobs either. Employment for me and other people with disabilities became one of my first issues. Transportation was also important because it was difficult for all of us.”

Tell us about your role as a legislative intern at the state house.

“I go to hearings, read bills and research what will affect individuals and families when budget cuts are made. Then I share this information with other self-advocates who follow up with phone calls, emails and visits to legislators when needed.”

How do you choose the issues you want to be involved in?

“It’s hard because they are all important. What helps is studying the state budget and seeing where funding cuts will affect services.
When I was chairperson for Mass Advocates Standing Strong (a statewide self-advocacy group), the issues of transportation, employment, closing institutions, guardianship, and self-determination all became important to me and they still are.”

Why should people be involved?

“You should want to be involved because your voice and your vote count (link to video in new window with John and others talking about importance of voting). Tax cuts affect everyone, especially people with disabilities and their families. If services are cut, individuals may have to stay home and family members will need to quit their jobs to take care of them. If you understand what is happening, you can do something about it.”

What are the best ways for people to be involved?

“Join a self-advocacy group or state-wide committee, attend conferences, volunteer in your community, and research things you are interested in on the Internet. It is also important that your legislators and local officials know who you are.
With the elections over, I will be organizing other advocates to join me in contacting the new legislators and educating them on what is important to individuals with disabilities. We also need to ask them how to work together in the future to make positive changes for everyone.”

Inspired yet?

So the Elections are over, now what?

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It’s November 3rd, elections are over and you voted. You should feel proud, but have you thought about how you plan to stay active as a civic member of your community?

At this point, you may be thinking that your vote was enough. After all, elections are a lesson in patience and we are all thrilled to see the end of automated phone calls during dinner and negative ads when we were just trying to watch Glee.

But if you really want to be part of your community, you have to do more than just vote. Being an active citizen means paying constant attention to issues that affect all of us. This includes issues for people with disabilities, but it also includes issues that affect the broader community you live in.

Choosing issues that matter to you

There are basically two types of issues you may want to be aware of in your town and state.

First, there are issues specifically affecting the disability community. A reduction in state taxes for example will cut services, which is an important issue that requires your attention.

At the same time, you want to remember that you are also a member of a broader community with additional issues.
Planning on getting older? A proposed senior center may be something you hope to use someday.
Do you have a dog? You may be concerned about having more dog parks.
Can’t afford housing in the town you want to live in? Groups committed to affordable housing may be something to join.

Committed members of your community

This month, we will hear from John Anton an active civic member of his community. John understands the need to pay attention to issues affecting the disability community and the broader community because he is committed to both.

We will also hear from Andrea Kelly about the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization committed to educating people on important community issues that matter well beyond the elections. In addition, Andrea shares her thoughts about a number of ways you can get involved in your community.

lone goldfish jumping into tank with other goldfishIt’s November 3rd and you should be proud if you voted. But let’s take some time this month to also think about how you can be an active member of your community in the year ahead. .. and more importantly, why you may want to.

How to Find Holiday Assistance in Massachusetts

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Two hands shaking with random computer designs projected on them

After reading stories about holiday assistance, now you are asking yourself, “How do I find local organizations willing to help me and my family or the families we serve?”

Programs and people that will be there for you

To help you start and finish your holiday assistance search or to find an organizations that accepts donations, here are six of the best statewide resources we found.

1. Food Source Hotline (800)645-8333
Project Bread’s Food Source Hotline has a friendly and helpful staff that will be able to locate emergency food programs and pantries near you. Call the local food pantry to inquire about holiday basket availability and requirements to receive food.

2. Mass 2-1-1
This is a fabulous, comprehensive website for locating local resources for holiday assistance.
If calling 211, dial 6 to ask for assistance.

3. Sharingweb.org
Check out this unique website which focuses on food, shelter, and crisis resources in Massachusetts. Click on “resources,” then “holiday assistance” to locate resources.

4. Salvation Army
Salvation Army is one of America’s favorite charities by reputation. The seasonal red kettle donations help provide winter coats, clothing, gifts and holiday assistance to needy families and the homeless. Enter your zip code on the above link to locate a Salvation Army in your area.

5. Catholic Charities
This is a great resource for low income families needing help year round. The “Basic Needs Emergency Services” includes food, fuel, rental, utility assistance as well as holiday assistance. Available funding varies from city to city.

6. Holiday Assistance Fact Sheet
Our favorite resource is our own MNIP fact sheet on holiday assistance programs in Massachusetts listed by region (statewide, area, and town). The information is current and will save you time and energy in hunting for assistance.

Please let us know of any special organizations or experiences that you want to share.

Happy holidays to all.

A Holiday Assistance Program that Makes a Difference

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Agency Spotlight

What do organizations need to think about if they are going to offer assistance during the holidays?

According to Caroline Wenck, Executive Director of SCAN 360, you may want to begin by really thinking about the people you serve and the simple gifts that would make a difference in their lives.

Thoughtful givingThe SCAN 360 bldg entrance

“The Springfield community is very generous, so when all the gifts come in, every inch of these tables is covered,” Caroline stated with a smile.

“But rather than inundating people with gifts, we take a day, invite all the staff and decide which families would benefit the most from each gift. We make it personal so that every donation will mean something. ”

She went on to explain that they only give a few gifts to each person and keep the rest to be distributed during the year.
That just makes sense. As Angela stated last week, you don’t need a lot during the holidays, you just want to know that someone cares.

Giving beyond the holidays

“Another thing we learned during the holidays is that people in the community are willing to give during the year, but you have to ask them.”

When students from Bay Path College made holiday donations to SCAN 360 last year, Caroline accepted their generosity but asked if they would be interested in forming a relationship beyond the holidays. She went on to explain how many families could benefit from food, clothing and even birthday gifts for children during the year.

The students responded by placing a collection bin on every floor of their dormitory where they donate year round.

“It can be more work for the program to take donations throughout the year, but we find it makes a big difference,” Caroline shared.

When you think about it, the lesson learned from SCAN 360 is people want to know that someone cares, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year…and that is the best gift of all.

A Gift for the Holiday, a Goal for the New Year

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A Gift for the Holiday, a Goal for the New Year

“After you feed people for Thanksgiving and Christmas, what do they do for the other 363 days a year?  They still need food, shelter and people they can rely on to help figure out how to put food on the table and pay the rent,” Angela stated.

This week, I introduce Angela, a young woman with two children living in the city of Springfield. I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela about her experience with SCAN 360, a community based program located in the heart of Springfield that provides holiday assistance as well as services and support throughout the year.

Knowing the people you serveAngela from Scan 360

“The problem is that some people and programs only show up during the holidays. SCAN 360 helps me during the whole year, so by the time Christmas comes they don’t have to ask me to write a list. They know what we need, because they know me and my family.”

For some people, support during the holidays means a small gift or a meal; enough to make the holiday season special.

For others like Angela and her family, there were bigger challenges in her life that she wanted to address. SCAN 360 knew the difference and built a relationship that provided support beyond the holiday season.

Setting goals can make a difference

“I had gone to other programs in the past and they made me feel like a number. At SCAN 360, they really care about me and my family, not just during the holidays, but all year. Some bigger groups just let people take the gifts and not work on any goals that will make their lives better. I needed to do more.”

If your organization provides assistance during the holidays, be sure you are aware of people like Angela who are ready to set goals that can change their lives. Offer the turkey, but also be ready to talk about making a budget for the coming year.

It may be a bigger task, but after listening to Angela, I think it is worth it.

What do you think?

Empowerment: The Ultimate Gift for the Holidays

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Colorful Holiday Gifts

As the holidays approach, we are all faced with the challenge of how to spread joy without overwhelming people with a multitude of donations.

After all, giving is part of the holiday experience, right? And giving to people in need of assistance is especially rewarding as we envision them opening their gifts during the holidays and realizing that people truly care.

Yet as we look at holiday assistance programs, we want you to think about how you can use the generosity of the holidays to really make a difference in a person’s life long after the season ends.

Think about it.

Giving someone a meal during the holidays is a good thing, but if we don’t follow up with a budget plan and perhaps a food stamp application, that same individual may go hungry during the winter.

The importance of giving people control

birch in winter

We will begin next week by presenting an interview with Angela, a woman who shares her personal experience with a holiday assistance program that didn’t end in December. In fact, they assisted her in setting personal goals that have truly made an impact on her life and the lives of her children.

Listen to her words and think about all the people you know who may receive holiday assistance this year and what they would say if asked the same questions.

I think most people would tell you they appreciate the gifts and goodwill, but they would really appreciate it if you could help them take control of their own life.

So maybe next year they could be donating a gift to someone else.

Make sense?

5 Reasons Why We Need Another Disability Blog

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As budget cuts wreak havoc on services for people with disabilities, we have a choice.

We can continue to advocate for more funding.  Another option is to really listen to one another and learn what supports do exist.

At New England INDEX we choose the second option. As a  respected leader in providing information and resources to the disability community,  we are now offering a venue for people to give  suggestions and share their personal experiences in regards to the resources we write about.

Thus our blog begins.

And our Blog Coordinator is…

My name is Sue Crossley and I am the Blog Coordinator, which basically means I will either be writing the blogs or editing those written by others.

I have over 30 years of experience working for people with disabilities and their families during which time I learned a few important lessons.

  1. A person with a disability is very capable of choosing their own dream.
  2. To reach that dream in life, whether you have a disability or not, you need support to be successful.
  3. The people who support you may be your family or paid staff from an organization that only serves people with disabilities.

But they also must include people from your community who realize that you have something to offer

I have seen many people with disabilities reach their dreams, including home ownership, because people in their communities supported them.

As Blog Coordinator, I want to find the people and programs in your community who want to help others reach their dreams.

A Blog like no other

Five hands coming together like spokes of a wheel

Our blog will be unique for five reasons.
1. A different topic will be presented each month based on what you have been researching on our website.
2. Your stories will be shared so that we can learn what resources have truly made a difference in supporting people with disabilities in the community
3. Exemplary programs will be highlighted each month, programs that may not just serve people with disabilities, but rather the community at large
4. Guest bloggers will be introduced frequently to share diverse opinions and experience
5. Most important, this blog will provide an opportunity for you to become empowered by learning what is working in your community.

Know your community despite cuts

We all stand together at a crossroads as budget cuts are impacting the life of everyone in our state. At the INDEX we believe that our communities still provide a wealth of resources regardless of funding and we need to learn more about these resources together.

Our blog begins next week with the topic of holiday assistance.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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