Fostering Acceptance and Growth for Individuals with Disabilities

  • Michael Fox |
  • | Mission

The Goodwill of Central Iowa Day Services Program is a truly exceptional place. The staff has successfully created a community where adults with intellectual disabilities feel accepted, safe and know that their voice is heard.

The staff offers endless encouragement. They provide a place to go where participants can work on being independent individuals, make choices for themselves and improve their social skills. They do this through a multitude of venues.

Goodwill life instructors work with participants to set goals for themselves, like socializing with more people or leading a discussion on a chosen topic. Most importantly, they offer an ear when they need to talk things through.

Lead Life Instructor Sean Abramowitz heads up these efforts. When Sean started working at Goodwill in August 2018, he brought with him a new direction. He’s working to shift the power in the program from the staff to the participants, so they can learn to live independent lives and advocate for themselves.

Robin: Finding Her Voice

Robin is someone who has really connected with Sean’s message of self-advocacy. It started when Iowans with Disabilities in Action visited Day Services to talk to participants about voting rights before the 2018 election. They also brought in a voting machine for participants to practice on and helped participants register to vote. The Day Services’ staff followed up this activity by helping people watch the gubernatorial debate and providing transportation to the polls. These events helped Robin realize that she has a voice and that it matters.

Robin has used this voice to advocate for others. She approached staff a few months back to talk about a recent outing. Robin is very observant and noticed that some of her peers didn’t enjoy the outing and voiced that concern to the team. The staff valued her feedback and have incorporated it into future events.

“I feel more confident in myself to speak up for my rights and to be out in the community doing activities,” Robin shared.

Steven: Stability and Comfort

If Day Services had a class clown, it would probably be Steven. He wants everyone to be happy and is always trying to make them laugh.

At times, Steven has struggled with appropriateness. He set a goal with his life instructor, Aubrey Streicher, to learn what topics are appropriate for different settings. Through his hard work and the gentle guidance of Aubrey, he has become much more adept at social interactions. Taking these lessons of social etiquette, as well as those of personal responsibility, he worked with a Goodwill career specialist to earn a job at McDonalds.

Before Goodwill and his employment, the only consistency in his life was his legal guardian. Steven endured many challenges, but through Day Services, he has found somewhere to be comfortable and to start developing a more positive sense of self.

Aubrey has been impressed with Steven’s progression over the past two years.

“He’s shown an immense amount of growth in so many different areas,” she said, “I think that a lot of that is due to him feeling safe in this space.”

Heather: A Change to Engage

When the opportunity comes up to volunteer, Heather is usually one of the first people to raise their hand.

“I love going out into the community and helping people,” said Heather.

Heather lives with her mother who works five days a week. Before joining the Day Services program, she would often find herself alone with not much to do. The volunteer opportunities and other community outings through Day Services bring her new experiences and keep her engaged. Participants like Heather have the chance to gain experiences that they might not have otherwise through a variety of activities and events that offers something to look forward to each day.

The Future of the Program

Sean recently started the implementation of a Participant Council to further participant’s independence. Individuals who have shown themselves to be leaders within the program will be selected to learn new skills and be the voice for Day Services in participant forward community interactions. One task is creating the activity calendar for the program, to create participant-driven programming. This includes directly communicating with the community to set up outings, which can not only provide participants with an opportunity to grow, but society as well.

“It helps the community grow and change by confronting them with the fact that people with intellectual disabilities exist, that they are competent, and they deserve your consideration,” said Sean.

According to Sean, one of the biggest mistakes a program can make is placing a staff member between a participant and the community. Although good-natured, the staff in those scenarios are unintentionally keeping participants from growing.

“Being in situations where a person is uncertain and has to figure out the answer is how people grow,” said Sean. “I think that people have the assumption that individuals with disabilities can’t experience personal growth and I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people grow substantially this way.”

This doesn’t mean that the Day Services staff will sit back and do nothing. It means that they’ll give the participants the autonomy to be in unfamiliar situations but are on hand to aid them if asked for guidance.

Eventually, Sean would like to see Day Services become a stepping stone in these participants’ journeys towards independence.

“We’re a program that encourages people to experience continuous personal growth,” said Sean. “We’re going to work together with participants to build this program into what they want it to be and to take responsibility and ownership for it.”

When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make work like the Day Services Program possible. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through shopgoodwill.com goes to support our mission of improving the quality of life for all individuals by providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find the location closest to you or make a monetary contribution today.

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