I have been home from our trip to Charlotte, North Carolina and the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the National Inclusion Project for almost a week now. Normally, it doesn’t take a week for me to sit and write down my thoughts, but this time, there are SO many of them, I could not decide on which subject to write about. So I am not picking just one. Grab a chair, I may chat awhile!
It is hard to tell you all about the National Inclusion Project in just one little blog. I urge you to read about them on their website. Read about all they do. See what a difference they have made in the lives of so many children. You can even find out how YOU can get involved too.
Inclusion has been such a passion of mine for so long, for reasons I have written about before. It is personal. When I get a chance to go to the Gala every year, I never hesitate.
I get to meet up with old friends, first of all. That has been one of the biggest blessings coming out of this journey! Caring, loving, friends….friends that feel like family. Because they are. I look forward to the hugs and the conversation and the wonderful times!
We ate the first night with these friends at a great Italian restaurant called Luce. Great atmosphere, great food! Great time!
Here is the pretty view as we were leaving.
We walked around a few times as we do. No better way to explore a new city! Charlotte is a beautiful place. SO many friendly people too! Lots of beautiful architecture.
One place that we discovered when the hotel restaurant wouldn’t accommodate our group of nine, was the Harvest Moon Grille. Farm to table cuisine! Great breakfast! Great place! The husband and I returned there again, it was so good.
Anyhow, on to the Gala itself. The Friday night VIP reception was great. I always enjoy when they hold the question and answer session with the Project’s founders, Diane Bubel and Clay Aiken.
But Saturday night, is the time I really look forward to. When they get to the part of the program where they highlight the honorees-the Champions of Inclusion. I often wonder how they will top each year. Every year, the honorees inspire me, touch my heart and make me cry. It seems that every year there is one moment that stays with me. One year it was when a mom was being interviewed and she said, “You always hope you will live one day longer than your child.” Understand that. This year’s moment, I will tell you about in a short while.
The program Saturday started with an inclusive performance by Charlotte School Children. What a joy to listen and watch to these kids.
Read more about the Foundation for Respect Ability here
The Honorees included…(From the National Inclusion Project’s Website)
A leading supplier of artificial-grass and indoor-outdoor carpet products for The Home Depot, Lowe’s and other retailers, Habitat International Inc. is a socially responsible business dedicated to providing jobs for hard-to-place workers. Launched by David Morris and his father Saul in 1981, the Chattanooga, Tennessee company has become a role model for other businesses, disability advocates and the general public. Seventy-five percent of Habitat’s workers have a physical or mental disability, or both. Over the years the company has also employed recovering alcoholics, homeless people, non-English-speaking refugees and others who, when given a chance, work hard to overcome the stereotypes about them. Habitat’s “able” workers often out-produce the competition 2-1. Habitat’s slogan, “A Company of Positive Distractions” and its philosophy of love, kindness and compassion honor the special diversity of the people who work here. At Habitat, it’s the people that matter most.
I remember David quoting one of his workers favorite sayings… “Life is life!” True isn’t it. And when he had passed away, and David went back to the company one of his workers came up to him and he thought he was going to ask him how he was? His question instead was, “David, How is your heart today?”
What a great company!!
Two brothers who share a love for each other and for racing and showing the world a little bit about what inclusion is all about. Seven-year-old Cayden is unable to walk or talk on his own, but his nine-year-old brother Conner had an idea that would allow them to participate in sports together. A year and a half ago, they began competing in triathlons together. Conner swims while pulling Cayden in a raft, bikes with his little brother towed behind him in a trailer, and pushes that trailer when they run. Over the past 18 months, the pair from White House, Tennessee, has traveled up and down the East coast to compete in races. Seeing the brothers working together has inspired onlookers, while bringing Conner and Cayden closer than ever. Their amazing determination and spirit is inspiring.
What an incredible story this is. What child as young as Conner is/was when they started, would even do this? Would even think to do this? Conner saw his mom reading a magazine and saw an ad about a triathlon and asked his mom about it. That was how it started! Can you imagine what our world would be like if all children could be like this?
The famous quote from Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it” has been the driving force behind the life of Tim Harris. Born in 1986 with Down Syndrome, Tim’s life has been defined by exceeding expectations. In high school, Tim was elected Homecoming King by the highest margin of votes in school history. During graduation week, Tim was also voted Student of the Year by the administration, faculty and staff. During college, he lived in the dorms and earned certificates in Food Service Office Skills and Restaurant Hosting.
While Tim and his brothers Daniel, Thomas and John were growing up, their dad Keith worked in sales for the A.H. Robins Pharmaceutical Company, Shell Oil Company, and for a small Alburquerque company that provides orthondontic practice management software. In 1989, Keith and his wife Jeannie started an information technology company called Kemtah Group, Inc with $500 in startup capital. Over the past 24 years, Kemtah has grown and prospered and today has operations in 26 states.
Keith’s vision has always been to be successful and to make a difference in society by helping persons with career barriers become economically self-sufficient. When Tim began to show interest in owning his own restaurant someday, Keith knew their next steps. In October of 2010, the next chapter began with the grand opening of Tim’s Place – a restaurant in Alburquerque that is open for breakfast and lunch, seven days a week. Tim offers free hugs on his menu and is very excited about fulfilling his dreams to own a restaurant.
In Tim’s famous words…
“OH YEAH!” Can you imagine….He knew since he was 14 he wanted to own a restaurant. Can you imagine his parents…not saying that is NOT possible. But supporting his dream and vision. Can you imagine, as parents seeing that come true?!
Tim is inspiring! He loves to hug…and who doesn’t love to get one? I got one! Many of us did! What a great restaurant idea. Breakfast, lunch, and hugs!!
Now to this year’s ‘moment’. This one came from the Keynote Speaker, Dwayne Ballen. Dwayne’s son, Julian was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 4. When his wife heard the diagnosis she asked, “Will he ever call me mom?”
THAT is my moment. Those sitting around me, probably heard me too! I probably sobbed out loud about then. I took off my glasses, covered my eyes, sobbed. I didn’t expect after so long for something like that to still affect me so. But it did. I don’t know if you can really understand that statement, unless you lived it. Not knowing if your child would ever call you mom. Luckily, Jamie did. I can tell you exactly where I was and I can tell you when. He was 4 and we were sitting at the top of stairs. It had been one of those exceptionally trying days. He was in my lap and I was crying from frustration. The tears were streaming down my cheeks. He reached up, touched my tears and simply said, “Mom”. Oh did I cry some more.
Dwayne continued to talk about their journey. So much familiar. So much not. Julian is now a freshman in college! Amazing.
Dwayne, by the way, wrote a book called Journey with Julian. Check it out!
Sometimes when I leave here, I not only feel inspired, but I always wonder what I could have done different, better? Have I done enough for Jamie? I always feel like the answer is no. Not sure why, but it is always how I feel.
I can’t help but think about the woman who sat by me once talking about subbing in the ‘special’ class. Talking about the kids in wheelchairs, the ones who didn’t talk, who had behaviors… She liked to tell me and others that these kids cost too much to us all and that truly they are all they are ever going to be. So why waste our money and time on them? Wow. It angered me so. I don’t imagine that she will ever get why inclusion is so important. More importantly….to see that ALL children matter.
Can you imagine where Tim Harris or Julian Ballen would be right now if they had been surrounded by people who thought like her? We cannot limit our kids….if we do not see the possibilities, if we do not see past their disabilities to their abilities, then we are shortchanging them and everyone else too that may someday be inspired by them, that will be changed just by being around them.
I wish that inclusion was further along in the world than it is right now. I hoped as we fought for it many years, that there would come a day when we wouldn’t have to fight for it!
It is still my hope that one day soon, we won’t have to!
It is my dream!
“Inclusion means all participate and all belong.”
What more could we wish for?