A small, rainbow-colored glass magnet attaches her picture to the side of our fridge. The photo freeze frames her donning a graduation hat, perched slightly crooked with a large bobby pin securing a cowlick-y clump of hair near the backside of her head. The girl in the picture is not my own. She's someone else's daughter. Her name is Morgan. I am mesmerized by her photograph: a combination of started and startling beauty and childhood innocence captured on the brink of a very different adulthood.
Life fully lived, to me, is not about counting the losses and the lost expectations, but rather swimming, with as much grace as can be mustered, in the joy of all of it. We can choose to do that, you know. And, in a life lived with a big, open heart, we swim in the joy of others people's lives. I bathe in the joy of my mother friend's accomplishment, knowing firsthand the frustrations she has endured to get there. I swim in the joy of all of you whose sons and daughters have just graduated high school and college this spring season. Yay, YOU!
YAY, my daughter, Grace, who has completed her first year of post high school transition programming. She has learned a complicated system of sorting books at the downtown library, partnered with a classmate to remove staples and shred papers at a city agency, sorted charitable food pantry items and prepared them for serving without consuming. For those who know the lightening speed at which my daughter can snatch a cookie, or any object to which she fancies, you know this is an achievement. This summer she again sorts clothes (her favorite,) at an area Goodwill store. And, she continues to paint.
There are 500,000 youth with her diagnosis of autism, alone, who are aging out of their U.S. federally mandated public school services and they need equal opportunities to, for some, continue formal education; to live, work and engage within community in meaningful ways for employment, learning, play and contribution. Please ponder the ways that you can help those of us more challenged. People like us and not just those with autism but other disAbilities for whom the population numbers are even more mind boggling-ly overwhelming.
Parents: please roll over and wake up that many if not most of our state governments are not going to opt for the responsible thing to help our sons and daughters become productive citizens. (Again, Tennessee scores by ranking in the bottom 10 in the aid it provides it's citizens with disAbilities whom linger for decades on waiting lists if they can even manage to get listed.) Businesses are not learning fast enough that our community members make good, loyal employees. (Tennessee ranks within the top three, nationally, in unemployment of people with disAbilities.)
Think entrepreneurial. At whatever age, at this precipice of adulthood or otherwise: what is your son/daughter's strengths? Think creatively. How can you maximize them for learning and for employment now or in the future? (Yes. You. Can.)
Grace continues to fulfill a vision I dared to dream for her a decade-and-a-half ago to become a profit-earning artist. She is selling and showing at various retail and gallery venues about Nashville and elsewhere. I am still in desperate need of boots-to-the-ground, hands-on help with launching our nonprofit social enterprise for adults with and without disAbilities to--in community--create, exhibit and sell their work. I am adept at creating programs, visioning and marketing, but need a partner for these other key areas. We have held one workshop and are planning another. We are organizing a rotating series of quality art exhibitions as various venues, including Crumb de la Crumb restaurant, Athena Consulting and Psychological Services and Tennessee Art League.
Early May, in conjunction with Tammy Parmentier of Gallery One and developer Brent Smith, we launched a 51-purchased piece collection of high-end art by mostly local artists with disAbilities, called The ArtAble Collection I of Village Green Hills. We will be replicating this in Smith's next development and discussions are underway to replicate this project in his next building and in other developments. Stay tuned as we unveil more details here, other affiliated social and traditional media about these projects. We also are planning a late summer public reception for the collection (which is otherwise not open to the public as Village Green is private residences). We expect Mayor Karl Dean for comments and will have catalogues of the art available for purchase with proceeds going to our separate nonprofit startup.
Think: outside the box. Think: opportunity. Everyone deserves such. And: congratulations graduates. You rock. Moms and Dads, you, too. They came. They went. They conquered. And we will continue. Roll up your sleeves.