Today, I am excited to have Anne Mitchell blog for United Media. I met Anne shortly after I had an opinion piece published in the Indianapolis Star. Anne called me immediately and we met a few days later. We had a great conversation and Anne has some pretty impressive credentials. Anne has done what I dream and talk about … creating opportunities for people with disabilities to live independent and rewarding lives.
Last Wednesday, I blogged about inclusion, or lack thereof. Anne eloquently reiterates this message and the importance of inclusion for healthy communities. Enjoy!
What Permaculture Teaches Us About Belonging: By Anne Mitchell
I recently decided to replace all the grass in my backyard with plants that will provide food and habitat to encourage wild birds and beneficial insects to come into the yard. I want to do this as naturally as possible so I started reading about permaculture. As I read, I learned that monocultures (the way that we farm commercially in the U.S. – one crop on lots of acres) always require a lot of additives to make them work. This means fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation. The soil is literally sick or dead and so we have to add lots of things to just keep the plants alive. They don’t thrive or evolve – they just survive – barely.
Monocultures almost never happen in nature. Nature loves diversity – no matter what you start with, you will eventually end up with a huge number of plants, insects, birds and animals on a plot of land. Some plants pave the way for others by improving the soil. Some plants provide shade for others. Some plants attract insects that eat the bad insects. Birds scatter seed so that more plants will grow. Mature, healthy ecosystems need everyone and everyone has a job to do.
So I think about how we try to keep people with disabilities separate from everyone else. We have created a monoculture in our midst. We have special education rooms, schools, workshops and group homes. “Special” this and that (“disability” day at the state fair to “special” sports teams). Then we have to add lots of things to make it work… like behavior programs, therapies, specially trained staff, medications, buildings, policies, auditors… – the list goes on and on. We say we are doing it all in “their” best interest – but hey, what about the rest of us??? If nature depends on diversity for health and maturity – then we can’t have healthy, mature communities until everyone belongs and has a role to play. Things would work together well because everyone is needed. Everyone has a gift to offer – the trick is finding that gift and figuring out where it is needed in the community.
My friend, Tim had all sorts of labels. But after his school years, Tim never lived a segregated life. He lived in his own home with the support he needed. He owned a small business. He voted. He couldn’t drive or read and never graduated from high school. He wasn’t physically, the most graceful person in the world. His speech was a bit hard to understand until you knew him well. But Tim had a huge heart and felt compelled to visit people in the hospital and to attend funerals. He knew just how to make a person feel better when they were sick or injured and he knew just the right words to help people grieve the passing of a loved one. For many people visiting hospitals and attending funerals is a nasty chore that sometimes has to be done. For Tim it was a passion, a calling. Many people were thankful that Tim was there for them when they needed a friend the most.
Tim passed away a few years ago. His funeral was well attended and he is missed. Tim belonged and had a role to fulfill. How do we help everyone belong and find the role they need to fill? How do we build communities that can sustain us all?
Anne Mitchell’s bio:
Anne has worked with people who have disabilities or have been marginalized in some way for 30 years. She began her career working in traditional residential and day program models and made significant and lasting changes to its service delivery model in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. That experience led her to learn about and strongly support person centered models of support delivery. More recently Anne has added Asset Based Community Development and Theory U practices in creating sustainable change to her learning. Anne is committed to assisting individuals and organizations learn about and implement person and community centered strategies so that all people will have the opportunity to enjoy a sense of belonging and lead full, satisfying lives in their home communities.