Tai's Gift: mobilizing
Four years ago in our
community, a young mother gave birth to a baby who happened to have Down
Syndrome. A few months after her son was born, one of her closest friends
decided to host a 'coming out' party for this little boy and his family. Fifty
people gathered in a huge log house and welcomed the baby to the community.
Towards the end of the evening, a visitor from Japan said to the baby's father,
"It's a very good custom you have here."
Our new friend and her family moved North for a couple of years and returned to
Vancouver Island this Fall. Her son is now four years old, and clearly has some
big struggles ahead of him - Down Syndrome was only part of the picture.
Faye and I talked with her for hours about the experience of raising a child
with major communication and sensory challenges, and we listened as she
expressed her delight at finding people who would accept her child exactly as he
is. Connecting with people who would dream with her, work with her, and share
what will unquestionably be a tough journey particularly moved her.
For some time now, we've been members of an Internet mailing list called
that supports over a thousand families worldwide. When we talked to our friend
about this list, she said, "You know that I have been transformed by this
little boy, and I have a completely different connection with the community than
I did before he was born. I would love to be able to share what I'm learning
with new families. I also want to share it with families right here in BC."
We discovered that she has a great deal to share with other young families.
She's thoughtful, strategic, hopeful and articulate. So how might we enable her
to share her gift?
Here's what we did:
We invited Tai's family to connect with a new Glendale Institute project on
assistive technology (see http://www.bcatech.org).
Our friends at WestPro Benefits (http://www.westproweb.com)
contributed an Internet-ready computer. The Glendale Institute agreed to receive
this designated donation and manage it as part of a long-term equipment lending
We brought the computer to the community where our friend and her family live,
but instead of delivering it to the family, we delivered it to a local civic
association - the Parksville Rotary Club.
We said to the Rotary club, "We have a gift to be delivered in this
community, and we want you to deliver it. WestPro has donated this computer
through the Glendale Institute, so this won't cost you a penny. But we want you
to do something else. We are absolutely certain that among your members there
are people who use the Internet. You're comfortable with the 'Net, and you're
comfortable with the process of helping someone get connected to the Internet.
"We would like you to deliver this computer to the family and also deliver
someone who can get them up and running on the Internet. This is important
because they need direct access to information about Down Syndrome, language
development and gentle teaching, but even more importantly, she has a great gift
to share with the community. This mother has a lot of insight to offer to
families who have children with disabilities, and the Internet connection makes
"There's more. She knows that it's important to make our own community
stronger. And we know that your organization is founded on that principle. She
would like to find some way to contribute to the work that you're doing. Maybe
the club member who helps her get set up on the Internet can think with her
about what that contribution might be, or it might be another member who comes
up with the idea. She has friends in the nearby First Nations community, she's
connected with people who are interested in home schooling, and she has good
friends in the local business community. Maybe some of those connections could
be valuable to the work that you are doing here."
Look at what's happening
Once the family is up and running on the Internet, the mother can access
specific information, support and encouragement from a worldwide community of
parents and professionals. And she has a way to share her knowledge with other
families who are raising young children with disabilities.
She's contributing to her local community, immediately by getting on board with
an influential civic association, and later by helping to mentor the next family
that we bring online. Our friends in the civic association are already thinking
about what the project might be. Among other things, they are involved in work
on clean water supplies worldwide, and they're exploring how our friend might
eventually help to publicize this effort in the worldwide community of families
of children who have disabilities.
At least one person from the Rotary club is getting to know the young child and
his family well -- they have a real working relationship. Club members are
beginning to see the family in the context of gift-giving and capacity, rather
than in terms of needs and deficits.
If her connection with the civic association is thoughtfully supported, in the
very long run, forty or fifty people might feel a connection with her son. They
work in real estate, logging, retail, the local library, marketing, financial
services. They're in a perfect position to help create a vibrant, connected
future for a little boy with Down Syndrome and communication challenges. By the
time he's ready to work, he's not a stranger to them; they've been thinking
about him for years.
Now the men and women who are part of the civic club are thinking differently
about their own kids -- not just the ones with disabilities, but all their kids.
And when the next baby with Down Syndrome comes along, the community knows what
All of this happens with a donated computer, an Internet connection, and some
Sharing the Vision
The way the WestPro contribution 'cascades' is that we're telling the story to
the business community and encouraging other businesses to make similar
contributions. A computer and an Internet connection can bring a family's gift
to their local community, the work of a worldwide civic association, and many
families who journey with children with disabilities. What if we were able to do
this in fifty BC communities?
The way the process of engagement 'cascades' is that we're telling the story to
the community of interest around disability and assistive technology. We share
the pattern and encourage people to find the 'WestPros' in their own localities.
We know the importance of maximizing community contributions and maximizing
exposure. Every contribution is tied to a conscious strategy of engagement,
connection building and gift-giving.
The reason we work hard to maximize exposure is that it not only honours our
sponsors, it sends some other important signals: that a strong community works
to identify and mobilize the gifts of all members; that strategic engagement can
create major shifts -- from dependency to contribution, from reliance on formal
systems to personal commitments, and from isolation to collaboration and
© 2003 David and Faye Wetherow !