The Arc of Maryland
Emily and Kelsey have been best friends since kindergarten. They play baseball, go to movies, have sleepovers, hang out with friends and will graduate from high school together. So what’s different about these two young girls on the Easter Shore? One happens to have a developmental disability. This story shows the power of friendship. It also points to the value of early intervention in creating success for those with developmental disabilities.
We have to start at the beginning shared so well in Emily Pulleyn’s prize-winning essay in The Arc of Maryland’s “Together We’re Better” Poster and Essay contest.
“Entering kindergarten is a huge step in a child’s life; they meet new friends and their peers that will be with them until graduation. When I went to kindergarten, I was thrilled! I couldn’t wait to meet my teacher and new friends. Kelsey Rowe was one of the first friends I made. At the time I had no idea that she had Down syndrome.”
“That year we became very close. We had the same teacher for four years and were inseparable.”
Kelsey and Emily didn’t stay in the same class after 3rd grade, but they did stay friends. They credit those first few years as changing their lives forever by allowing their friendship to bond. Over the years Emily has included Kelsey in activities where she made friends and became accepted by their non-disabled peers. Both girls point out how important and good it has been for Kelsey to be in an inclusive classroom. “It’s important to be in regular classes so you can make friends. Later on [these students’] employers will be the people who were their friends in school,” explains Emily. And that’s a pretty important message that’s really more than a message – it is how change gets started.
Through The Arc, change gets started throughout the state. Across the state in Howard County, a wrestling team cheered a surprising bout win by its team member who happens to be living with autism. In Carroll County, a kindergartner name Geena is a trail blazer as she helped the school develop its inclusive pre-K program. Just as powerful a story is told by Greg Prater, the 2005 Maryland Disabled Small Business Person of the Year award, who owns and operates Greg’s Vending in Carroll County. In Baltimore, two adults find employment and love overcoming issues surrounding their own developmental disabilities. In Annapolis, one woman has changed the lives of a neighborhood by creating a restful park and accessible sidewalks proving that anyone can be a citizen.
All of these stories aren’t just about inclusive education or employment; they are about an inclusive community. The Arc of Maryland’s mission is to create more stories where children and adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities have and enjoy equal rights and opportunities. When this happens, the community benefits in many ways. People with developmental disabilities become employees, citizens, and contributors at a far lower cost than institutionalization. Research shows that inclusive classrooms benefit all in many ways including developing tolerance, awareness, and understanding of differences that carry through in life.
Each year The Arc changes lives through advocacy and direct services offered in 10 local chapters around the state. We train and mentor people with disabilities to be effective self-advocates and others to effectively advocate for people with disabilities. We work with the State legislators, educators and policy makers to change laws and regulations and find creative solutions.
The Arc of Maryland’s “Changing Minds...Changing Lives” Campaign highlights stories like that of Emily and Kelsey, which can be read at www.thearcmd.org. The website also provides resources for individuals and families with questions about developmental disabilities as well as for employers, educators, and others in the community seeking ways to build an inclusive community. “By becoming involved with The Arc or simply allowing us to change your minds, we all will change the lives of Marylanders around the state,” says Cristine Marchand, executive director.
The Arc of Maryland
49 Old Solomons Island Road, Suite 205
Annapolis, Maryland 21401