Posts Tagged ‘Inclusion’

Friendship

I recently watched a video about a boy with Down syndrome who was included into a general education setting. The video gave a nutshell picture of the successes and the challenges of such a placement for this student.

I cried at the lunchroom scene the film included. The student, who had some “behaviors” that were worsening in 6th grade sat at the lunch table with a group of other boys. Without warning and quick-as-lightning, the boy reached over and grabbed another student’s roll right off his tray. The breadless boy and another student demanded the return of the dinner roll, telling the boy that “you can’t take someone else’s food!” But the boy held the roll tightly in his fist and refused its return, ignoring his friends’ pleas.

Finally, the breadless boy and all of the other boys got up and moved together to another table, shaking their heads in disgust and frustration. The boy was left at the table all alone with his stolen piece of bread still clenched tightly.

It was heartbreaking to watch. The boys tried to reason with the bread thief; they tried to be patient; they reminded him of the social rules. But in the end, they got frustrated and left.

And you can’t blame them. They are kids. Hungry kids. And their rights had been violated, basically. No, you cannot blame those boys at all. I mean, who knows what else the boy may snatch before they have a chance to eat it. And who knows how many items he’s snatched from them over the years while he struggled to control his impulses. And even the best of friends, the most patient of saints, has his limitations and feelings.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that only one day later I got word from school that Chloe had snatched her BFF’s cake pop at lunch! Yes! Seriously. Snatched it quick-as-lightning right from her lunch bag. And… and… and licked it!!! I’m not kidding! Tell me it isn’t so!

The movie played out in my head: all of the girls getting up, angry, and leaving Chloe at the table to finish her lunch alone.

I’m so grateful to report with a very full heart that Chloe’s BFF simply snatched the cake pop back, wiped it off, and ate it. Because that’s what BFFs do. And because Chloe’s BFF responded like she did, no one got up and left, and no one got angry. (Although I’m guessing Chloe was the recipient of several lectures from her friends about behaving appropriately and respecting others.)

But you can be sure that I’m terrified for the day Chloe’s BFFs run out of patience. I am still very much aware of that possibility. And it makes me sad.

But today: grateful. Grateful for friendship.

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Eve

Today at church the children heard the story of Adam and Eve. The story included the apple, the serpent, the fig leaves, and the Garden of Eden.

For the game that accompanied the lesson, the kids dressed each other up as Adam and Eve.

Chloe was Eve for her team. The girls ran around the room, gathering supplies, and quickly decorated Chloe. Within moments she was completely decked out in Eve garb. She wore green crepe paper, a wreath of leaves on her head, and … a cool pair of shades.

This, folks, is what inclusion looks like at church. 🙂

photo

And now, for the rest of the story….

When it was time for the Adam and Eve game, Chloe got my attention and let me know she wanted to play the game. It’s not uncommon for the Sunday morning game to be a running around relay game that she has a hard time participating in. So this time she wanted to make it clear that she did actually want to play.

I happened to be the adult in Chloe’s group for this game so I informed a couple of the girls who were sorta taking charge that Chloe wanted to play this game and be Adam or Eve. They both looked at me like perhaps they didn’t speak English, but knowing that isn’t the case I didn’t restate my message or check for understanding — I thought the request was pretty clear and that it was a fair request from Chloe since she can’t really actively participate in a lot of the activities.

Well, lo and behold, when the game leader went around the circle and asked who from each group would be Adam and who would be Eve, these two girls announced that the two of them would be Adam and Eve. Hmmmmmmm. I guess I should have checked for understanding after all. 😉

I very casually reminded the two of them that Chloe would like to either be Adam or Eve and asked them to decide which of them would give Chloe their role. This time they looked at each other like maybe they didn’t speak English and sorta halfway pointed at each other silently. I gave them about a minute to work it out between them in whatever language they might choose, and then I asked them which role Chloe would be playing in the game. Again, I got confused looks that I finally determined were not looks of not knowing the language but were simply looks of total human selfishness (don’t hate! — we all struggle with it!!) that were just unwilling to budge for another person. I gave them one last opportunity to redeem themselves by giving an encouraging, knowing cue: “Girls, which of you will make a kind choice and be a good friend?”

After no action from either girl besides continued confused, stuck expressions, I let them both know that they were both relieved of their duty of Adam and Eve and that instead Chloe would be Eve, and a little boy on the team would be Adam.

Now before you go calling me a meanie, know that I would’ve done the exact same thing for any child if I saw a rare opportunity for him/her to fully participate. And also know that if I were the parent of one of the confused girls, I would want another adult to step in and help train my child’s heart in kindness and compassion and unselfishness. So no hard feelings, ok? It’s just part of children’s ministry. 🙂

I tell this story to illustrate the fact that sometimes inclusion is natural and friendship is natural and that amazingly cool things just happen in the hearts of children sometimes. But other times, children need guidance, and inclusion has to be guided and staged. But guess what? If done correctly, both types result in inclusion. And guess what else? My kid is blessed in both instances (if done with dignity and taste). And the other kids benefit, too, because which of us could not use a little heart training? Which of us couldn’t use a little “unsticking” when our hearts are stuck in selfish gear?

In the end, Chloe enjoyed getting “decorated” as Eve, and the other girls enjoyed running off, gathering supplies, and decorating Chloe. It was a win-win.

Going to Camp

I went to church camp this year. Kids camp. I went to support Chloe so she could experience church camp for the first time.

the whole camp crew

It was no simple undertaking. It had to have the approval, blessing, and commitment of our children’s pastor. (She was gung-ho and actually encouraged/talked me into taking Chloe this year.) It meant Chloe and me having our own motel-type room to make caring for her possible and to protect her privacy/dignity. It meant packing lots of food and supplies – including her bed. It meant putting Chloe on a team with the right mix of kids and leaders who would do a good job at including her. It meant being prepared with knowing which games she could participate in and want to participate in.

Camp is a lot of work. (and I don’t mean for just me)

I went to church camp to support Chloe. That was my role for the whole week of camp – just to be Chloe’s support person. Our children’s pastor instructed me to go rest in our room any time Chloe needed it, to participate as much as we wanted to/were able to, to just enjoy and experience camp.

But if our children’s pastor was so excited about our going to camp, why in the world was I dreading it as much as I was? Why was I nearly hoping that something would happen to make us not be able to attend camp? Why was I nearing total shut-down as the day approached to leave for camp?

I was dreading it because I was afraid that I knew the feeling. And I wanted to avoid it. I had supported Chloe very similarly at Vacation Bible School for several years so I thought I knew the pain that was ahead for me – pain physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Sounds so weird to say that supporting my child at VBS would be so painful. But it was. At VBS, there is much crazy dancing to loud music. My child who uses a wheelchair and has limited strength in her body needed help with the dance moves and to stay upright. When the motions to the song required jumping, it was me with my hands under her arms, grabbing her trunk and lifting her up in the air. The schedule is fast-moving from one room to the next to the next to the next, and the able-bodied kids always beat us to the next station since Chloe and I had to take the way-out-of-the-way accessible route every time. We were always the last ones to the next room. The night always includes a snack bar that served food Chloe couldn’t eat most nights. VBS was also notorious for bringing in visitors to our church – kids who didn’t know/understand Chloe, which meant my having to intervene and explain and answer questions and educate kids constantly for a week. And the whole activity of the night was just a glaring reminder of the things my girl couldn’t do. And then at the end of the evening, I was left with 2 kids (because Zippy was attending, too) who had had an overload of sensory input, and it was beyond their ability to handle it in the most peaceful way — 2 kids who were up way past their bedtimes and who were exhausted beyond reason. THAT’s what supporting Chloe at VBS was like. It was brutal.

Being Chloe’s support person at VBS, I wasn’t a counselor…but I wasn’t a kid either…I was just Chloe’s support person, and it was weird. I felt alone and weird. VBS week has annually been probably the hardest, most isolating week of my life.

(As is sometimes the case, I feel like I need to add something here. My church has been amazing. The people have always included and valued Chloe – it has been a work in progress. But I need to say here that it wasn’t anyone’s doing or wrong doing that made the week hard for me; in fact, I’m guessing my church friends who read this will be shocked that I felt that way. I tried to hide my hurt and suck it up so my kid could enjoy VBS, and quite honestly it wasn’t until recently that I was able to put into words some of the reasons why VBS is such a difficult experience for me. And a side note: Over the years, Chloe has progressed to the point that she was able to enjoy the snack 3 of the 5 nights this year! And also this year I requested that someone else support Chloe so I could volunteer elsewhere. It wasn’t as painful a week for me this time….)

And that’s why I was dreading camp. I figured it was like VBS –only worse since camp is 24 hours a day!

But I was pleasantly surprised.

We ended up having a really good time, and it was much easier physically and emotionally than I was expecting.

the orange team!

First, camp has some downtime built into it. While VBS is nonstop fun and activity for 3 hours a day, the week of camp has some downtime, making it way more doable physically than 24 hour VBS would. Second, I was recognized and treated more as a leader at camp. (I think because there was time to do it!) When leaders were sitting around talking, I was one of them. When the leaders went first at one of the meals, someone grabbed me and included me. Third, Chloe could do as much of the camp activity as she wanted to. Free time was exactly that – she got to choose what we did. And fourth, it was very obvious to me that Chloe’s participation at camp had been thought out – from lining up the golf cart to take her back and forth … to her small group leader having their meeting over on the couches which made it easier for Chloe when she was tired at that time of the day … and many others.

Chloe had a ball. She loved the dancing and worship. She loved the mud pit and the giant slip n slide. She loved the water balloons and the swimming pool.

Chloe inching into the mud pit

The two of us having a motel-style room worked out perfectly for us. She had her bed, her privacy, a place to relax when she needed it, a private shower/bath, a little fridge to store her food and drinks, etc.

She made new friends and hung out with old ones. She had kids praying for her, greeting her, and hugging her. People were genuinely glad she was there. And I think she was, too. And, again, I think part of it was that there was time for that to happen.

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The camp itself was glad to have Chloe there, I think. The camp director was a paramedic and was interested in Chloe and welcomed her. Most of the campus of this particular church camp was accessible for Chloe’s wheelchair. (Although they could certainly stand to do some work on their thresholds as most of them were difficult to maneuver over – one time I even sent Chloe flying out of her chair when she forgot to buckle up. Oops!!)

Overall, camp was a great experience for Chloe, and I’m glad that both Chloe and I got to experience it. I think we would both be open to going to church camp again in the future!

The Joy

I bawled. I hung up from talking to the teacher and bawled.

She called tonight before dinner asking for a paper I was to sign. Even though I had signed it and sent it back today, the last day of school before summer break, she hadn’t seen it. While we talked, she realized where the paper probably was so she said to disregard her call.

Then she stopped. She said, “No. Don’t disregard my call. It gives me the chance to say thank you for my necklace — I wore it today.”

And then she went on to tell me how much Chloe means to her … how much Chloe has changed her … and what a tremendous blessing it has been to have her. “I love Chloe and will always love Chloe.”

She mentioned the note I wrote to her that I stuck in the bag with her necklace. It meant a lot to her; she took it to heart, which is good because I wrote it from my heart.

The phone call was a bit awkward and incredibly emotional (and those who know me know emotion is not my forte!). The words came awkwardly, if at all. I feel speechless and forever indebted for the care this woman has taken of my daughter this school year. I assured her that the note I wrote to her was indeed heart-felt and that I would never be able to express to her what this year has been for our family — for Chloe.

Hoping it’s not too personal to share, I’m choosing to share it here since this is where I share my heart most of all and really paints a picture of my family’s gratitude for the team that taught Chloe this year:

We have no words to express what this year has been for our family — especially for Chloe. To be valued, to be appreciated, to be loved, to be held to standard, to be included, to be listened to and taught … and all the while be healed from past hurts. Your heart for teaching and for my daughter is gold and healing balm for us. Thank you for an amazing year!

Yes, it’s from the heart. And truly understated, if you ask me.

She went on to say that there’s no way Chloe benefitted more than she did this year; the teacher said she was the one who was blessed. And she was so glad that Chloe landed in her room this year.

The end of the phone call with the teacher is what pushed me over the edge to tears and sobs. She said she didn’t know what our summer looked like, but that she would like to write letters to Chloe and hoped that they could be pen pals. She also said maybe she can come over or meet us at a restaurant and hang out while Chloe plays … “so that you can stay connected to teachers who care.”

And I said, “Yes!”

I said that I would like it very much.

And my heart is full. My heart is full and overflowing — overflowing all down my face and dripping onto my shirt.

The crazy thing? Just a few hours before, Chloe’s aide made pretty much the same offer. It’s as though they can’t imagine the whole summer going by without getting to hang out with my kid.

And I’m finally letting myself believe it. After an entire school year of my precious girl being valued and cared for, I’m finally letting it really sink in. It’s trying to sink in as the tears are welling up. My daughter is truly valued, sincerely liked, and genuinely missed by folks who love her at her school.

I will refrain from asking what planet I’m on!! It’s crazy, indeed. Crazy good!!

Goods ‘n Bads

In yesterday’s post, I explained a plan to see what type of sports program Chloe prefers — guiding her to make a decision in self-determination at age 11. And then I promised to talk about pros and cons of the 2 programs we have been a part of.

I should point out that neither program is a totally segregated program, only for individuals with a disability. Even the more segregated program is somewhat integrated in its population and by its nature.

First, the regular ol’community cheer program that Chloe participated in last year. I already said that what I liked about it is that Chloe was on a regular cheer team with typical peers, and those typical peers were learning to include and relate to someone with different needs than themselves — and I tend to think that young people really need to experience that!! If more kids experienced that, then fewer kids would stare and gawk when we stroll the mall with the wheelchair or the walker. Just sayin’ that inclusion is good not only for Chloe, but for all those other little girls who think the world revolves around them.

I also liked that there was variety to the agenda in this program — some days working on the musical routine, some days working on stunts, and some days working on tumbling. I think the variety and the amount of material was challenging for Chloe in a really good way.

What I didn’t like about the community cheer program is that there were days when I truly didn’t think it was safe for Chloe to be there. The program was set up where parents drop off their child instead of staying and watching. They did allow us to stay (since they were pretty uneasy to have Chloe there without us), but they were not open to our going over to help or redirect or advise. On the days that the team worked on stunts, there were times that Chloe would wander over to another group — I think it is dangerous when flyers are up in the air, 2 or 3 levels high, and Chloe is left wandering. We already know from the stretching and squishing episode that Chloe doesn’t appropriately recognize people’s personal boundaries. I really think someone could easily get hurt.

I also didn’t like stunt nights because there weren’t really many stunts for Chloe to participate in safely. Perhaps if the group were more open to parent involvement, I could have helped create ways to include Chloe. But as it was, Chloe just sorta rolled around on the mat on stunt nights. No one paid her much attention unless she growled her Happy Growl, at which times she might get a strange look. (Those poor girls were frightened of Chloe, I think, since they were not used to having anyone with different support needs included in their classes at school or anywhere else for that matter — a big reason to vote for Chloe’s participation in this program!)

Another thing I didn’t really like about participating with this program is the competition piece. When you’re thinking of, say, an inclusive soccer program, there are ways to pad the team to make up for any weak spots, so to speak. But in something like cheer or dance, the team is scored for grace and movement and timing of the whole of the team, which, quite frankly, makes it difficult to get excited about having someone with a disability like Chloe’s on your team. It’s harder for me to work that piece out in my mind than if she were playing basketball, softball, or soccer. It just seems trickier — again, by the nature of the sport. Not to say there aren’t ways around some of that, but it’s harder to include her in a meaningful way and still remain competitive.

Next up, the program that we’re currently involved in, which is a program especially for children with disabilities. The pros and cons.

I like that it is year-round. One of my greatest pet peeves about most sports for all of my children is that the season is about 8 weeks long, and as soon as my girl or my boys begin to make progress and get the hang of something, the season is over. Ugh. It was true for cheer, for soccer, for basketball …. But this program is every Sunday night year-round. I think that is good for Chloe and will allow for skills improvements.

I like how the support is set up on this team. The staffers are girls from the competitive cheer team at that gym who volunteer their time to support a cheerleader on Chloe’s team. Chloe’s staffer is 6 months older than she is — I like that Chloe is cheering with typical peers. While I think the staffers view it as volunteering and serving, the fact is that they are peers who are learning what it means to support someone with a disability. When I found out recently that Chloe’s staffer was that close to Chloe’s age, I asked the staffer if she had thought there was a bigger age difference between them. She just shook her head and smiled, indicating that she wasn’t surprised; she saw Chloe as a peer. I like it. And, related, I like that Chloe’s team wears the same uniform as the competitive team so that when they are all on the mat, they all look alike.

I don’t like that the gym is 45 minutes away, but that’s beside the point. 😉

I don’t like that the team name is Angels. It literally makes me twitch a little bit when I think about it. I think the name Angels just sorta encourages the stereotypical “special needs kids” sorta pity and feel-good persona. I would rather the name be something different … something that didn’t evoke such pity and cuteness …. (I know, I’m a freak about some of this stuff …)

I also don’t like that the team only has one cheer. The Angels have one 2 1/2 minute cheer that they work on every week all year long. I know Chloe is capable of learning more, and I think she would really enjoy learning more. They do sometimes work for a couple of minutes on tumbling, but I would love to see more to challenge Chloe and the other kids.

So there you have it, folks — my take on comparing the programs. I’ll update you later on what Chloe’s opinions are. But before that, I’ll actually post a couple of photos/video of Chloe’s cheer competitions this year.

As I’ve already said, I waver a tad on this subject because I’m so strongly bent toward inclusion, but I think the points above are valid points for discussion. And I’m standing, unapologetically, by my plan to let Chloe choose which one she prefers this time. I think she deserves the right to choose her recreation.

Stay tuned.

photo credit: shoeboxed.com and maleficusamore.wordpress.com

Choices

As each of you probably know by now, I am a huge supporter and advocate for inclusion — in school, in church, in the community. Therefore, you might be surprised to know that Chloe is participating this year in a cheerleading program specially designed for children with disabilities.

Let me explain my decision.

Last year, I signed Chloe up for a cheer team — just a regular ol’ community cheer team. It was important to me for her to be involved and included in a cheer team open to all kids. I didn’t give the organization a heads-up of Chloe’s disabilities or anything; we just showed up on day one and expected to be able to participate. While we got some surprised looks and weirded out a few girls by Chloe’s not respecting their personal bubbles, she was mostly accepted and participated quite well.

She loved the dance moves and the routine that the team worked on. I was amazed at how well her little body kept up with the other girls. Oftentimes she was either a couple beats behind or stopping for a few beats in anticipation of a couple beats’ moves that she did right on cue with the team. I was impressed. Yes, she stuck out a tad, but she kept up and did well.

Well, there was that one night when the girls were stretching at the beginning of class and Chloe climbed up on top of another little girl who was doing a straddle stretch, squishing the little girl right into the floor on her nose while the little girl just let her body fold tightly in half and remained silent under Chloe’s weight … yeah, that …

… oh, and that one night that Chloe invaded one girl’s space and that girl scooted over into another girl’s space who scooted into another girl’s space until that whole line of little cheerleaders was bunched over on the side like a little football huddle …

yeah, we had a few hiccups …

… but it was mostly successful. And Chloe was cheering with typical kids … and those kids were learning what it means to include others.

Well, over the course of the past year or so I have been researching/reading about different adults with disabilities and their personal opinions on sports and inclusion. I was surprised to learn that some adults with disabilities preferred segregated sports; not everyone wanted to participate with the able-bodied kids. Yes, some of them preferred integrated sports programs, but some did not. The constant factor that I found true of all the adults with disabilities that I read about: they each felt very strongly one way or the other about their opinion on sports!

Learning about this difference in opinion, I really wondered what was best for Chloe and mostly wondered how Chloe felt about participating in sports. Would she prefer to be teamed with like-abled kids? Or would she prefer to be teamed with kids who had no disability label?

I decided that since Chloe is 11 (she was actually 10 at the time), that she is old enough to have an opinion about it. And I wanted to honor that opinion. The problem was, Chloe didn’t have experience with being on a team designed especially for kids with disabilities.

So I made a plan to introduce her to both kinds of sports — segregated vs. integrated sports. And we are following that plan to introduce both types of sports programs to Chloe and then to let her choose.

Please know that I go back and forth on this issue in my head and in my heart since I feel so very strongly about inclusion. Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion! But the truth is, that another thing that is important to me when it comes to individuals with a disability, is the right to choose. The right to an opinion, to speak that opinion, and to have it respected. The right to self-determination. “This is what I want for me!” “Listen to me!” type of right. It’s important for all people with disabilities; and it’s important for Chloe.

So I signed Chloe up for a cheer team for children with disabilities. Each cheerleader has a staffer assigned to them to guide them and support them when needed. Chloe’s staffer is about 6 months older than she is — so she’s a peer — and is on the competitive cheer team at the same gym. These girls stay after their team’s practice and run through the routine with Chloe’s cheer team.

So Chloe is being introduced to this type of sports program. On the mat are some children with disabilities and more than half (the staffers who have volunteered to be a part of this team, too) of the children do not have disabilities.

I plan to sign Chloe up for another regular ol’ community cheer group this fall and then let her choose her preference once she sees the differences in the two programs. I have a feeling my little stubborn one will have a definite opinion one way or the other. And I will strive not to persuade her or influence her decision. I truly want it to be her decision and her choice. I want it to be an act of Self-Determination.

All I know right now is my girl loves to cheer!!!!

So stay tuned!

(While I hesitate to even voice my opinion on the matter since I’m trying to leave it up to her, stay tuned to read my pros and cons of the 2 cheer programs we’ve experienced thus far….)

photo credit: web-dealing.com

The Bigger Picture

I cried several times yesterday after hearing from a friend who has a young daughter who lives life with multiple disabilities. The young girl attends public school and is in a program that educates her in a special education classroom part of the day and then includes her in the general education classroom part of the day. How’s that working for her? Well, unfortunately, my friend received news that it is somewhat of a fail, apparently.

Inclusion. It means different things to different folks. To some it just means sharing the same location or the same room. To some it means visiting now and then. To some it means sneaking in the door occasionally, grabbing the closest desk to the door, and sitting there for a few minutes. To some it means allowing a student to participate in PE or music.

To me, inclusion means to be a part of the class. Not a visitor. Not a “friend from down the hall.”  Not the Inclusion Kids.

Inclusion means to be a member of the group. Equality, inclusion.

I received Chloe’s class picture yesterday. I spent nearly ten minutes looking at it. Looking at Chloe, sitting a little awkwardly next to the teacher, and noticing she’s not the only one who appears a little awkward. 😉 Looking at the teacher who truly adores and values my daughter. Looking at the girls — self-proclaimed friends of Chloe. Looking at the boys and the principal who all just accept Chloe as another one of the girls. Looking at Chloe’s aide who believes in Chloe and is only surprised when Chloe doesn’t succeed on a task. Looking at the class. The group. And knowing Chloe is a part of the group. I couldn’t stop looking.

It made me think of years past when Chloe wasn’t in the general education class photo. I remembered the years when I was surprised when I received Chloe’s class photo. The photo wasn’t what I expected. Chloe and six or eight other kids who receive special education services appeared in a tiny class photo with each other — set apart, segregated, separated, symbolizing how the school truly felt about them … about her. Knowing that the other girls in Chloe’s grade were taking home a completely different photo that didn’t include Chloe.

But this year is different. This year she is included. This year she is truly part of the group. And I couldn’t stop looking at the photo. I loved it. It warmed my heart and made me so thankful — so thankful for the teachers, the aide, the staff, the principal, everyone who has worked hard to make sure that Chloe is a part of the group. I was thankful.

Literally not an hour later, I heard from my friend who gave me the news that broke my heart. Her young daughter, who on paper was “included,” as it turns out was not truly included. She was not a part of the class.

It seems that on class picture day, the general education teacher asked the special education teacher if her class could take a photo with my friend’s daughter and a photo without her.  And so it happened that a photo was taken with her, and then (again symbolizing the teacher’s heart for “inclusion”) a photo was taken without her — a more accurate photo of her class.

And to make it worse, my friend’s young daughter heard the whole thing and was aware that she was left out of one of the photos.

To be honest with you, I hardly even know this friend’s daughter. I’ve only been around her a handful of times. Why in the world did I cry as much as I did if I hardly know her?

I think the answer is that when you believe so hard in something — like equality and inclusion and dignity for individuals who have a disability — and then you see it so totally fail … it tends to absolutely crush your hope. That blow means we are still so far away from reaching inclusion, from reaching a society that accepts my daughter and accepts my friend’s daughter.

I was crushed. I cried again later as I told Paul the story of the two class pictures.

Having so little hope, where do I go from here?

I pray that this teacher … and other teachers who are still completely in the dark about what it means to include a human being simply because she’s a human being … would be changed. I pray that something would happen to change them.

I know my advocacy and my speaking up will help with some change. I have dear friends who are speaking up with me and advocating with me. We will make our voices heard. But we are so few … and stories like this make the effort seem utterly hopeless.

I really want this world to be different for my kids!! I want it to be different for my grandkids!

My heart hurts — literally aches — from stories like this one. But I have to believe that my/our efforts will pay off. They will make a change.

I have to believe it. I do believe it. I believe that change can and will happen. I believe that situations and hearts and beliefs will change.

It happens. It sometimes happens. Doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. In fact, I have Chloe’s class photo to prove it!

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I will continue to fight and advocate and speak up. And if I have to look at Chloe’s class photo everyday as motivation, then that’s what I’ll do!

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