One of my favorite parts of working for Partners for Youth with Disabilities has been getting a chance to see the wide variety of PYD’s programs in action. I’ve attended performances by Access to Theatre participants, sat in on Making Healthy Connections youth group sessions, watched our Young Entrepreneurs Project teachers in action, and experienced first-hand the joy that comes from being a mentor in our Mentor Match program. While each program is unique, I’ve seen the same end results across the board: kids that stand a little taller, speak a little more confidently, and leave with a smile on their face.
But hands down, the most incredible moments that I’ve witnessed at PYD have come during MHC’s Parent Group meetings. Meeting at the same time as our MHC youth program, the Parent Group offers a supportive environment for parents to freely share their experiences, vent their frustrations, celebrate their victories, and learn about new resources that they wouldn’t otherwise have heard about.
At the recent meeting I attended, a parent named Carol started by sharing with the group how she and her husband had finally, after years of advocating, gotten their son Alex a spot in a transition program at a farm in New York. This had always been Alex’s goal for himself – “I want to work with animals on a farm,” he has often said – and by embracing Alex’s vision, they finally feel at peace and excited for the future.
As Carol explained – and I’m paraphrasing here, “It’s tough, because for a long time, you won’t admit it to yourself, but you’re in mourning for the child you might have had. You keep comparing your child to what you thought they ought or should be doing, and you force these expectations onto them. But once we made the transition to, ‘This is who Alex is, and this is what he wants to do with his life,’ it’s been such an empowering and liberating feeling for our entire family.”
As heads nodded around the room, one by one other parents spoke up to express the same sentiment –and how the Parent Group had been key in helping them make that mental transition.
There’s no way to say it without sounding cliché: these parents inspire me. I’ve left the Parent Group meetings in awe of everything about them. How they have remained so positive in the face of frustrating struggles with schools, government agencies, and service providers. How they can share so freely of themselves with me and the others in the group. How supportive they are of one another, willing to dive in without second thought to help another parent or family despite their own personal challenges. And how they so fiercely believe and advocate for their child’s ability to determine their own definition of success and happiness.