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What Can We Learn From Catherine & Phil? Everything We Need To Know About Building An Inclusive Community!

From October 22-25, co-leaders Keenan and Julie completed a whirlwind learning and sharing tour, with two days at the annual gathering on Person-Centred Practices (see photo below), a day at the Polivery conference (where policy meets delivery), and a day at the symposium on Social Capital and Community Engagement. They participated as panelists and presenters, but these were opportunities for tapping into a growing and dedicated group of individuals and organizations that share a belief in communities that are truly inclusive, not only in words, but in actions. Organizations like LiveWorkPlay have a responsibility to challenge and evaluate their outcomes in light of how well they are supporting beneficial social change.

personcentredUnsurprisingly, after laying a foundation about organizational change at LiveWorkPlay and how we try to live our vision, mission, and values through daily practices, some of the strongest reactions from audiences and delegates came from stories of change that have impacted on the lives of individuals.

One such story that resonated most strongly was about Phil Landreville, who has honoured LiveWorkPlay with his trust in helping him explore the possibilities and opportunities that the Ottawa community has to offer. Phil has been making excellent use of LiveWorkPlay resources to build his social capital in all areas of life! This includes everything from getting support to grow his ability to shop independently at his local grocery store to joining sports teams around the city.

This has happened for Phil in the same way it does for other members: sharing interests with Support Coordinator Allison Moores, and then one or more members of the Community Connector team of George Kranitis, Caitlin Fortier, or Grace Hudson helping develop plans and facilitate the connections and relationships to make it happen. In Phil’s case, Volunteer Coordinator Alex Darling has also been involved, since he had an interest in spending one one one time with others in the community.

Phil was initially matched with Catherine McCarthy. What brought them together in the beginning was a shared interest in reading. In the beginning, Catherine was more of a leader in the relationship, since reading as a hobby was relatively new for Phil. Catherine soon identified that Phil possesses an expansive sense of humour, and that he never runs out of material. They started out reading at the library, but now they sometimes go to bookstores or just find a nice spot outside. Phil enjoys science fiction and in particular characters like Iron Man and Wolverine.
As topics of conversation expanded, Catherine noted Phil’s love of music and his memories about concerts he has attended. When she decided to volunteer at the Rock for Public Services concert and was wondering who else she might invite, it was an obvious choice! Although Phil was not invited with any expectation of helping to raise funds, he joined right in and took a leadership role, using his air guitar, dance moves, and overall community spirit to work with Catherine and help raise hundreds of dollars for Youth Mental Health at Ottawa Royal Hospital. The night became all the more memorable when rocking out to Randy Bachman and The Sadies was followed by some face time with Sass Jordan!

To appreciate the significance of this story, it’s important to understand that Phil has had many negative experiences with people and places. Because he is a non-standard communicator, other people do not always take the time to understand him, or they choose to simply ignore him. Even worse, some people actually react to Phil with fear – because they see “difference” as something to be avoided. This is sad. It’s sad for Phil, but it’s also a tragedy for other people who are missing out on the opportunity to get to know an amazing person who makes our community a better place!

This story is about the lives of individuals, but on a broader level the lessons we can learn from Catherine and Phil tell us most of what we need to know about how we as a society should be better applying our resources of time and money to support an included and equitable life for people with intellectual disabilities. As Keenan and Julie discussed with colleagues from across North America, the focus of most of our systems resources – from our schools to our adult services – is invested in keeping people with intellectual disabilities separate from others, which serves to emphasize their differences and create systems dependencies, instead of emphasizing commonalities and building social capital in homes, workplaces, and social venues based in the community.

There is no easy way to change these beliefs and attitudes. All we can do is live inclusive values and invite others to join us. We do this through invitations to individual citizens like Catherine, and we do it by joining formal and informal coalitions of people and organizations who believe as we do – that we not only have a responsibility to include Phil and others because they are human beings that deserve such basic respect – but also because our community is made better because they are a part of it.