It has been ten months since I posted on our daughter’s adult life. In a few days she will be twenty-five years of age. And while I am counting, it is three years and four plus months since she returned to her home state to begin her special needs adulthood. What our daughter has accomplished in these three plus years is pretty impressive. From a parental point of view, it is monumental.
Only four years ago I was trembling at the thought of how to ensure a safe and fulfilling adulthood for her. I had many dreams and many fears. I acted on both and the dreams have won. Now our daughter is a PROSPECT, that is an employee of The Prospector Theater, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit state-of-the-art multiplex movie theater opening to the public on November 21 in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The Prospector’s mission is “to provide adults with disabilities opportunities for meaningful employment and vocational training.”
The Prospector was also a dream, that of its creator Valerie Jensen. Over the last ten years Val has been deeply involved with another non-profit, SPHERE, and from this experience she conceived of an employment entity for adults with disabilities. Val combined her devotion to her sister Hope and to the special needs community with her training as an educator and her passion for cinema. She and other determined individuals harnessed the resources to bring to fruition a work setting where employees with special needs will provide all the amenities of a large entertainment venue. Many of us know that it takes a village to raise a special needs child but it might also take the support of a village to allow the successful employment of their special needs and disabled adult citizens. Ridgefield, Connecticut, is a model for that kind of village.
My years as a parent of a child of difference have shown me that many of the resources that have benefited our daughter come from the private sector – from families with means and vision and a child or a grandchild or a sibling or a cousin with special needs. Inspired by their experience with the special needs world and able to think outside of the box, these families step up to create schools and non-profits that blast open doors otherwise closed to this population – creating entry into places where they can learn and train and work. Val Jensen, her family and friends, Prospector benefactors and the town of Ridgefield have faith in their special needs community, believe in their value as employees and have tangibly shown that belief by their actions – just as our family has always known that our daughter has the ability, intelligence and personality to set the world on fire. Just watch her.
Though our daughter will likely depend on state and federal funding for her shelter, food, clothing, staffing and healthcare for the rest of her life, there is no doubt that her quality of life is tremendously enhanced by the Val Jensens of the world. And the world around our daughter is genuinely enhanced by her active presence in it.
If you have an idea and resources and a passion to provide opportunities for adults with challenges then buddy up with others to bring your ideas to fruition. Your dreams might just become a dream come true for those worthy of having a chance at life in all its dimensions.
1. By the time your child is entering secondary school you should be looking around for a town with an inclusive tradition toward special needs adults.
2. Keep in mind that it is never too soon to join with other parents in your area to brainstorm future residential, social and vocational planning for your child. This is particularly crucial for families whose special needs child may not qualify for government entitlements because of testing scores that exceed the state’s cut off for qualification.
3. All the wishing in the world won’t prepare your child for a safe and fulfilling adulthood. They may need supports. They may not. But be prepared and start planning early.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2014