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Why Community Matters

Why Community Matters
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They realize it has rarely, if ever, happened. But you, you here at the Howard Center, that’s what you do, and have done and continue to do. You are the listeners.

And if you do not?

“When they are not heard when they speak, they find a way to be heard. Their ways often are not pretty. They can be frightening, destructive.” Lynette Loges from your Safety Connection program told me that. She explained that Safety Connection supports people with developmental disabilities so they can live more independently.

I learned of a man we’ll call Sam. Now in his late forties, he was so aggressive that caseworkers shuddered when they learned he was now their responsibility: “People actually left the agency when he arrived on their caseload.”

“We were banging our heads against the wall,” Jim Hessler of Safety Connection said. “Then the team decided: You know what? We’ve been rewarding Sam for so long for his aggressive, unsocial behavior, what happens if we just walk away until he learns there’s another way to get things done?” He had been given his own apartment, and soon the Howard Center was called. He was on the porch with a broom handle, about to smash in the windows. “We said, ‘Sam, if you want something and can ask for it appropriately, we’ll be there. But you didn’t, so we’re leaving.’ His jaw fell open.

“But what happened next? He went from most-feared client in this agency to one of the nicest. He regained a quality of life. He became a wonderful advocate for himself. People like being around him. Now he’s living a life worth living. A lost member of the community here had been found.” When we help to restore dignity to a person’s life, Jim added, it’s like the attorney who frees someone who has been wrongfully sent to prison.

There are about 30 people like Sam being helped now by Safety Connection. How many lives are affected by those ripples? And those lives ripple out. You are not just working with Sam, but with countless others who will know him over the course of his life.

I spoke with Robin Pesci with First Call, and Catherine Simonson, your director of Child Youth and Family Services. From them I learned about a young man who for months had been in crisis; hurting himself, often suicidal. And the Howard Center was always there, making sure he was getting medical help, making sure emotional problems were being healed, as well as his own self-inflicted wounds. The Howard Center involved his family, helped them see it wasn’t just this young man’s crisis — it belonged to all of them.

At one point, everyone thought he’d need to be in residential care for years. But what happened? He became reintegrated into his community, into his family, and learned how to identify and cope with the pressures that almost ended his still-developing life. If you were not here, if you hadn’t entered his life, where might he have been? Everyone in this room, and beyond this room, is enriched by this boy’s having a chance for life.

Think about this: Last year there were 16,000 calls for help that came into First Call — more than 40 a day, every single day. Someone in trouble. Someone who needed someone to be there. To listen. And then to have options.

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