We didn’t want to let this pass without immediate comment – Al Condeluci has announced his retirement as CEO of CLASS, and as he always does, even his retirement announcement is embedded with overt messaging about the importance of relationships and the path to a better and more inclusive world that comes from social capital and interdependence. Whether those are terms familiar to you, or perhaps you are hearing them for the first time, it doesn’t matter – with a bit of reading (or listening/watching his videos) you will find yourself nodding your head in agreement – of course all that is good in the world comes from our experience of other people – what they give to us and what we give to them.
Where we often fail as systems and communities is to focus on “fixing” people who are different, instead of exploring the reasons for their exclusion, and how to find commonalities that would alleviate or remove these barriers. Too much of the work of “disability services” particularly as pertains to people with intellectual disabilities, has been focused on building up segregated infrastructure – physical structures like group homes and “activity centers” as well as philosophical frameworks that treat the excluded individual as “the problem.” This enables a the self-fulfilling prophecy: when you separate people from others and identify them as broken in some way, sure enough, that’s how their lives will tend play out. When instead they are valued and respected for who they are, and people and places that diminish them are treated as the problem, we get social progress through a focus on welcoming and inclusion.
The good news is that Al is going to continue sharing this message, and we know that he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. As he says in his blog, it is all a part of who he is as a person.
While we could go on for some time about his accomplishments and contributions, we want to instead pause for a moment and give a tip of the cap to the CLASS organization. The investment of non-profit organizations in “advocacy” is not always the easy choice to make. The efforts that Al has made across the planet to help promote social capital and inclusion did not come without costs of time, money, and energy. A person with such talent could have been tasked with “staying at home” to focus on the organization’s internal progress. Why help others?
Because that is what non-profit work is supposed to be all about. There are many benefits to organizing and organizations, and there are realities to maintaining, sustaining, and growing organizations that cannot be ignored. They need revenues. They need to find and keep great people to do work (quality in human services depends on the quality of the humans delivering them). At the same time, they must keep their eye on the prize, which is changing the world around them so that whatever the marginalized population, they are contributing to broader social change. Delivering programs and services is not an outcome. Those are a means to an end.
Al Condeluci and CLASS have been leaders in this perspective longer than most, and the lessons to be learned are more relevant now than ever before.
Congratulations Al on a remarkable career, and a remarkable life that will continue to be lived to the benefit of so many people that you have touched already, as well as those who might never meet you in person but will benefit directly or indirectly from your efforts.