October is Community Inclusion Month in BC.
As stated on the Inclusion BC website in 2017: “Community Inclusion Month not only welcomes all members of community to celebrate and bring awareness to the strengths and achievements of people with developmental disabilities, but it also challenges us to think of community as more than just a place where we live. It is where we all come together to work, learn and play”.
I love this, because the proclamation includes everyone in the big picture. After all, every one of us needs community to survive and thrive.
And people create community in many different ways. For me, one of the most satisfying ways I've found to being a positive member of my community has been through service, or volunteering. I began volunteering in my teens, and the seeds of those early experiences have grown into a lifelong commitment to serve others.
Audrey Hepburn once wisely said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others”. In my opinion, was she ever right. Giving of yourself just feels good.
Service to your community – or fellow person for that matter – is a gratifying act. These good vibes have been studied for their actual health benefits. In an article on the Harvard Medical School blog, they cite research that shows volunteering can be good for body and mind. They say, among other benefits, that “many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes”.
People with disabilities or chronic health conditions also benefit from volunteering. In fact, “research has shown that adults with disabilities or health conditions ranging from hearing and vision loss to heart disease, diabetes or digestive disorders all show improvement after volunteering”.
According to a paper titled Stepping forward: Including Volunteers with Intellectual Disabilities, there are a number of things you can do if your organization would like to include volunteers with intellectual disabilities:
1. Ask a self-advocacy organization for persons with intellectual disabilities to make a presentation to your group.
2. Work with organizations and individuals with intellectual disabilities to develop and distribute plain language information about your organization and your volunteer opportunities.
3. Contact local groups or services who can connect you with volunteers with intellectual disabilities.
If you are building your organizations volunteer base, the article: Including the Developmentally Disabled in Traditional Volunteer Programs: Why Organizations Should Do It, and How to Get There is another great resource and includes an extensive list of considerations to make inclusion worthwhile for all involved.
It's clear that volunteering connects you to others, and connection is vital for any one of us. Connection is what makes a community strong. Sharing of yourself, be it with individuals, or with the organizations that serve our communities, just makes sense – for all of us – including those who live with developmental/intellectual disabilities.
Inclusion and community, now that’s something to celebrate.
Looking for ways to get involved? Here are a few places to start: