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It Takes a Community

My daughter, Gabrielle, plays baseball and other sports. I remember watching one of her practices when she was seven years old; they were practicing running bases. As Gabby approached second base, she started slowing down, but cheers of, “come on, Gabby!” from her coach and teammates filled the air until Gabby made it all the way to home plate.

For our family and the other families involved, baseball is more than just a sport. Community engagements, like baseball, are places for our children, and really the whole family, to build meaningful connections in an inclusive community. 

Before becoming part of a network of families, I remember focusing on Gabby’s disability, Down syndrome, and her medical needs. I made every effort to ensure Gabby received all the therapy she needed. However, this resulted in Gabby and I becoming very isolated, even from the rest of our family, since so much of our time was devoted to appointments and carrying out therapist directed activities. I had thought our family might have to move from our small Alberta town of Mallaig, into a big city in order to access the right resources and education for Gabby. In the beginning, I could only imagine Gabby becoming friends with other children with Down syndrome, and being educated in segregated classrooms. 

When I first joined one of Inclusion Alberta’s family networks, I was the youngest parent in the group. This gave me the opportunity to hear stories from other parents who had adult sons and daughters with developmental disabilities and about the possibility of an inclusive life.

I later attended an Inclusion Alberta Personal Futures Planning workshop with Connie Lyle-O’Brien. I invited about ten of our friends and family members to participate and in continuing to learn about the promise of an inclusive life this event became an important turning point in our journey. 

I began to think about the exciting future that Gabby’s life could hold. I became committed to advocating for Gabby’s right to be educated in an inclusive classroom. With the help of Inclusion Alberta’s advocacy and support, Gabby’s school is now a place where she is learning academically and engaged in meaningful relationships with her peers. 

More recently, I was invited to participate in Inclusion Alberta’s Family Leadership Series over five weekends, and this encouraged me to broaden my leadership role in our community.  Our local family network evolved into a formal local association, called Inclusion St. Paul, and I became an Executive Committee member. My passion for supporting families and partnering with the community, in order to create meaningful and inclusive lives for our sons and daughters with developmental disabilities, led me to become the chairperson of our inclusive education working group. 

Gabby is now nine years old, and her life exemplifies the work and vision of Inclusion St. Paul and Alberta. Not only is Gabby fully included in her grade four classroom, but she is also engaged in her school’s homework club, our church community, the agricultural society, skating, gymnastics, and baseball. It has been wonderful to see Gabby make genuine and meaningful friends in all the different areas of her life! 

What I envision for Gabby’s life in the years to come includes many transitions: junior high is only a few short years away; then there’s high school, possibly university or college; and eventually a career. It’s nice to know that through Inclusion St. Paul there are families with older children who have managed some of these upcoming transitions, and are now mentors to our family as our journey progresses. There are also younger families who are part of Inclusion St. Paul.

I understand the fears younger families face, and I know this can limit what they envision for their sons’ or daughters’ futures. Now I can mentor them by sharing our journey, the expansive vision we have for Gabby and how she now has a full and rich life. My work with Inclusion St. Paul and the families in our community is fueled by my belief that, like Gabby, every child deserves the right to belong and live a meaningful life in our community. 

- This story was contributed by Nicole Martin, CACL Family Voices and Agenda Task Force member.