March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the values embodied within the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000. The DD Act, as it is commonly known, ensures that the nearly 5 million Americans  with developmental disabilities and their families have access to services and supports that promote self-determination, independence, and inclusion in their communities. [Source: acl.gov]

SC Ministry Foundation salutes one Cincinnati organization that has successfully promoted community inclusion and fulfills a key aspect of the mission of Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, “to build loving relationships.”

People with disabilities make up the largest minority in the U.S., though they are often left out of community life and go unseen by the greater society. In particular, people with developmental disabilities are often segregated into separate programs and housing where their social connections are limited to paid staff, family members, and other people with developmental disabilities. Over the years, this has led to social isolation, feelings of loneliness and stress, and greater risk of becoming victims of crime, experiencing poverty, and unemployment.

Recognizing the Potential of All

Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati  has been working to build better lives for people with developmental disabilities since 1993. Starfire’s mission is to change the condition of social isolation that people face by connecting people with developmental disabilities to others who share their common interests and passions through community building. “It is really important for anyone to be connected with the community, especially people with disabilities,” shared Jason Harris, a Starfire board member and 2013 graduate of Mount St. Joseph University. “People with disabilities have the same wants and needs as everyone else, feelings of accomplishment, relationships and family.”

With the support of SC Ministry Foundation, Starfire established the “Community Connectors” program to serve the needs of each individual, rather than provide programming in a group setting. Starfire assists each participant in accomplishing their personal goals and connects them to a network of people without disabilities who share common interests, hobbies, or community activities.

Starfire’s Community Connectors program has led to life changing results for its members. Participants have expanded their social networks and 75% have maintained those relationships. In addition, 75% of the participants have attained a valued social role through community involvement or employment. Participants are experiencing respect and making contributions to their community. Those who have supported the participants and developed relationships have benefited as well.

A Sense of Belonging

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Zak enjoys his job at his neighborhood recreation center. 

One Starfire member who has benefitted is Zak, whose path to employment faced many challenges over several months. The dedication of his mother and support of Starfire staff eventually led to a position at Dunham Recreation Center in his neighborhood. “They gave me my paycheck, I opened it up, and I had a grin on my face,” recalls Zak, almost a year after he started working at Dunham. “It’s a neat place to work. It changed my life.”

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After joining a Zumba class in her community, Beth decided to organize a Zumba fundraiser for charity. 

Another Starfire member, Beth, decided to participate in Zumba exercise classes in her neighborhood recreation center, rather than classes designated for people with disabilities. Ongoing encouragement from her family and Starfire staff helped Beth to form relationships with her classmates. Beth later found a way to help others through her new connections and organized a Zumba fundraiser for Children’s Hospital.

Josh, an avid sports fan, found a way to connect with other sports fans as a concessions volunteer at Xavier University’s  Cintas Center. Since he started working, Josh has become a very popular among many of the Xavier students and has formed strong friendships with his co-workers. Josh shared, “Building friendships is something good.”

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Josh enjoys volunteering at Xavier’s Cintas Center and interacting with other sports fans.

Celebrating Abilities

Starfire Council is helping many people to realize and celebrate the many abilities people have – rather than focus on the disability. The theme for the 2016 Developmental Disabilities Month is “Side by Side” – to highlight the many ways in which people with and without developmental disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities.

The Community Connectors program through Starfire Council is an excellent example of how funding from SC Ministry Foundation is contributing toward the goal of stronger, healthier, more diverse and more inclusive communities.

For complete stories on the featured Starfire members:

Zak  |  Beth  |  Josh

For more information:

Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati

2016 Developmental Disabilities Day – National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

Photos courtesy of Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati

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