Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Blog by Education Resource Coordinator Mark Butler

For over thirty years, the month of March has been recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.  Organizations, families, and people with development disabilities use this month to educate our communities about developmental disabilities, to advocate for inclusion and access to services, and to share stories about the struggles and successes of persons with developmental disabilities.

The term “developmental disabilities” refers to a group of conditions that cause an impairment or delay in the areas of learning, communication, behavior, or mobility.  These disabilities are present at birth or are diagnosed in early childhood, usually lasting for the person’s entire life.  Developmental disabilities include: Down Syndrome, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and more.  Nearly 1 in 6 children in the United States have been diagnosed with one or more developmental disability.

One area of advocacy during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is the campaign to stop using the “R-word”.  The R-word is the word “retard(ed)”.   It has been used in the past to diagnose or describe people with Down Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities.  In more recent years it has become a derogatory term used insult or question the intelligence of others.

Continued use of the R-word is hurtful and promotes negative stereotypes about people with developmental disabilities.  Words can be powerful.  The words we choose can shape our attitudes and direct our actions toward others. The Letter of James compares the tongue to a fire and asks us to “consider how even a small fire can set a huge forest ablaze.” (James 3:5-6)

Love impels us to choose words that celebrate each person’s human dignity, a dignity rooted in our creation in the image and likeness of God.  A good way to celebrate this truth is to utilize “person-first” language.  A person with a disability is, above all else, a person made in God’s image.  Person-first language also embraces the truth about a disability far better than euphemisms such as “special needs.”

Rather than calling someone “autistic”, try to refer to them as a “person with Autism.”  It is better still to get to know that person, to share not only their struggles but their hopes and dreams, and to come to know them by their name.

This Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a good opportunity to reflect upon the words we choose.  It is also an invitation to explore ways to advocate for and celebrate the dignity of people with disabilities.

Posted in Just Reflecting, News

Take Action for Our Dreamers

Blog by Sr. Rene Weeks, OP

Every day my ministry brings me into contact with immigrants. Some are citizens or legal residents, others have immigration cases in process, and still others have no realistic hope of regularizing their situations under our current laws. I listen to their stories, their worries, their dreams and help where I can.

One special group of immigrants is those we know as Dreamers or recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). About 800,000 young people are currently enrolled in this program. An estimated 1.5 million more could qualify but did not enroll for various reasons, including the fear that enrolling would jeopardize the status of relatives in the country without documents.

Many of us have already written numerous letters and made many phone calls on their behalf. But now, even if we have already done so, we must take action again and write or call our representatives in Congress, or better yet do both—and urge them to protect these youth who were brought to this country illegally as children.

Dreamers have grown up in the United States. Many of them remember no other country. They’ve been educated here and speak English fluently. The youngest are still in high school. The rest have enrolled in college or are employed. Some are PhD candidates, doctors, attorneys, scientists, teachers and mechanics. About one thousand are members of the US armed forces. No one who committed a crime could even apply for DACA.

These are exactly the sort of people we can be proud to call our neighbors and friends. They have long lives ahead of them, lives with which they can make substantial contributions to our society. Leaving aside all the moral and ethical reasons why we should protect the legal status of these young people, for economic reasons alone DACA makes great sense. It is estimated that during their lifetimes these Dreamers have the capacity to add $329 billion to the US economy.

Recent non-partisan polling indicates that more than 75% of US voters want protection for Dreamers. More than 55% also want them to have a pathway to citizenship. Yet these young people are being used as bargaining chips in the larger debate on immigration.

I know some of these DACA recipients personally. They speak of feeling like they are on a seesaw, one week with hope, the next with despair. Their lives are on hold, waiting to see if they will ever receive a favorable response to their dreams. They wonder what they will do if no action on their behalf is forthcoming. Should they return to their country of origin? Or try to blend back into the shadows of the undocumented, losing their work permits, drivers licenses, and their right to be here as students?

I try to put myself in the place of Sylvia (not her real name), who is studying nursing at a state university. The new semester has begun, and she wonders if she will be able to complete it. Even more she wonders what her life would be like if she had to return to Mexico, especially since she only has distant relatives living there and has not been out of this country since she was too small to remember.

Or Jesus (also not his real name), who dreams of specializing in immigration law when he graduates in the next couple of years. Now he interns with a non-profit helping low-income workers protect their rights. What future awaits him?

Or Angel, a high school junior who never enrolled in DACA because he didn’t realize he could. His marks place him in the top quarter of his class, but he realizes he may not be here to graduate unless something changes.

DACA expires on March 5. Right now, before it’s too late, our members of Congress need to hear from us. We need to tell them that we care about Dreamers and want the DACA program renewed. As important, we want – and our faith demands – a pathway to citizenship so as not to uproot the lives of so many young people who’ve made enormous contributions to our communities and our economy.

In the words of the US Catholic Bishops Conference:

DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth. As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.

If you would like to advocate for the Dreamers, please click here to send a letter to your government representatives.

Posted in Just Reflecting

Searching for Peace in a War Torn, Violent World

Blog by Sr. Germaine Conroy

With the end of 2017, we are saddened and disheartened by the continual signs of violence, indifference, and seeming hopelessness that surround us throughout the world. We long for peace. We ache for peace. We pray for peace.

We see the struggles across the planet of families displaced, separated, taken from their homes and forced to flee their communities in search for peace.

We watch the scenes on our daily news and it is too much to take in. If we do not wake ourselves up, we become numb, unable to see how we can ever make a difference.

One of the struggles that does not reach our news reports is the plight of the Palestinian people, a people who are systematically oppressed by Israel apartheid. At this holy time of Hanukkah, Israeli military checkpoints are shut down for the benefit of the military, thus prohibiting the movement of Palestinians to reach their lands, jobs, schools and families.

What has reached our news reports is the recent declaration by President Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite the fact that Palestinians also have their center of worship in Jerusalem. Human rights groups and governments throughout the world have condemned this decision and called it a “grave threat to peace.”

So where do we look for a call to peace? Who has the moral message for all of humankind?

It is none other than Pope Francis, who in his message for the 51st World Day of Peace 2018, wishes “Peace to all people and to all nations on earth…especially for those who most keenly suffer its absence.”  Pope Francis recognizes that “welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and good will, vigilant and sympathetic attention…”

One ray of hope in the US government is the recent sponsorship of HR 4391 promoting Human Rights by ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.  Introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Min) and 9 others, it has continued to gain additional support in the House of Representatives and brings to light the abuses of the Israeli forces against Palestinian Children.

In this new year of 2018, Pope Francis, through his message “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace”, continues to be the global voice for peace as he calls on the United Nations for leadership in the development of  global  compacts for migration and refugees.

The Palestinian people are refugees in their own lands as their homes and businesses are destroyed to make way for new Israeli settlements, and for them we pray that they will not be forgotten and may enjoy peace in this New Year.

Posted in Just Reflecting, News

What Makes a Budget Moral?

Blog by Sr. Roberta Miller, OP

What makes a budget moral? What is the responsibility of government in drafting a budget? Currently the issues of morality and responsibility swirl around the US and our global world. Why? Is it because of the extensive disparities in economics between those who have a good life and those who do not in the US and in so many other countries? Is it because of the natural and human disasters plaguing our world with politicians apparently powerless?

Morality can be defined as a particular system of values and principles of conduct held by a society such as honesty, integrity, honor and justice. Do the denials, cuts or repeals for programs as the Affordable Care Act, Clean Power Plan, Paris Climate Accord, EPA rules for clean water, air or land as in the Keystone XL or Dakota Access pipelines reflect such values?

The role of the state in public spending should be directed to the common good based upon these pillars: “respect for the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person, promotion of human development and defense of peace.” Taxes and public spending are tools for uplifting and developing all members of a country’s population. All of us have gifts and skills to hone and share for the well-being of the whole. We also have needs in our society to be able to exercise our gifts and skills—education, health, meaningful work and supportive agencies, private and public. Personal and social responsibilities round out a society’s common good goal for wellness of earth and ourselves. Why then do politicians give the middle class all the attention as being in need when all working and non-working members of society deserve help.

Of the proposed federal 2017 budget: 54% is for the military; 3% for social security, labor, unemployment; 6% for education; 7% for veterans; 1% for food, agriculture; 2% transportation; 3% science; and 4% energy and environment. The moral system for this budget is violence—not in people or the earth, upon which we live, work and love.

Sources: USCCB letters of August 31 and November 7, 2017

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2006

Proposed Presidential budget for 2017 (Obama’s)

Posted in Just Reflecting

Akron Area Interfaith Council

I became involved in the Akron Area Interfaith Council (known as the AAIC) in August, 2015. I received a call from a United Church of Christ minister Chuck Auscherman asking if I would participate in a DVD for the AAIC. I had never heard of the organization and couldn’t imagine how I could serve. We agreed to a face-to-face meeting the next day during which he filled me in on the AAIC and this current project. Basically, I was asked to voice on the DVD the official position of the Catholic Church on interfaith dialogue. How blessed I was that Pope Francis had just addressed that issue a few weeks before!

In 1980 faith leaders from the Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox, African American, and other Protestant faiths joined together to create the AAIC. These clergy persons were all friends and saw the need to have an organization in place for communication and collaboration as well as the ability to address issues that arise between faith groups.

The mission statement specifically calls the AAIC to coordinate and enable effective interfaith responses to the social, moral, ethical, and cultural issues of the Akron area community as well as to promote freedom of religion, equality, and understanding. Currently, the AAIC has representatives from the Baha’i, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Christian (including Catholic), and Unitarian Universalist faiths. We meet bi-monthly to build friendships as well as to collaborate in addressing specific needs.

Intrigued by the variety of faiths of which I was, for the most part, unfamiliar, I decided to join the AAIC for a year in order to learn more deeply the origins and practices of those I knew so little of. The persons I have met and with whom I have engaged in projects have deeply enriched my life. At this time, not all members of the Council are clergy and there is a good mixture of male and female. I am the first religious sister many of these have encountered. Once we get to know one another, so many walls and barriers are brought down. We welcome one another as children who come from the same God, no matter how God is named and understood.

Two of our largest projects are The Fall Forum and The Hunger Walk. The former is a yearly event that brings topics of current interest to the interfaith community that enlighten and inform. This year the Forum addressed Akron’s opiate epidemic; titled “Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities,” it featured presentations by 1) a couple who had lost their son to heroin addiction, 2) Summit County Opiate Task Force, and 3) an addiction recovery speaker.

The Hunger Walk is held annually in early May. Over 20 congregations have joined together to eliminate food insecurity in the Akron area. One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Young children, teens, and even family pets participate! The May 2017 walk garnered $26,375.02 for the Foodbank.

I have so appreciated involvement with the members of this Council. It is such a joy to share different faiths with openness and acceptance, learning enriching insights from one another. We are realizing that at the heart of it all is our common humanity originating from the same God although called by various names such as Yahweh, Allah, Baha (All-Glorious), and Krishna. This approach is so needed at this time in our country when there is so much division. The more we share together, the more I find we share in common. In the year ahead, I hope to celebrate a worship service at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Islamic mosque, Temple Israel, and a Hindu temple in order to appreciate each faith’s reverence and love for God.

Posted in Just Reflecting