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The Sound of Community

Building connections is a human need

“Good morning, friends! It’s great to see so many faces today.” So begins the daily music singalong sessions with musician (and friend) Mendelt Hoekstra on Zoom. Mendelt creates connections for adults and youth with developmental disabilities across Ontario.

Participants attend from their group homes, independent living dwellings and classrooms. Rachel and Janneke attend while at their respective schools, but on their days home, I get to join too!

signs of engagement

Rachel and Janneke love the jam session. Janneke moves her body to the beat, and recently, she has started to sing along. Rachel is more contemplative, as if she were a judge on a talent show who secretly loves the performance but doesn’t want to be completely transparent.

Participants send Mendelt song requests, which he skillfully incorporates into a playlist. In one session, he might sing “Yellow Submarine” from the Beatles and then switch to the classic hymn “How Great Thou Art.” I’ve been tempted to suggest a complicated song, under the guise of Rachel and Janneke, to see if he’s up for the challenge.

“To be human is not a bundle of capacities.
It’s a way that you are in the world.”

Eva Feder Kittay, quoted by Keith Dow in
his book Formed Together.

a sense of belonging

A recent session moved me to tears. One participant unmuted to share the recent loss of a parent. Within seconds other participants unmuted to offer their condolences. The love in the Zoom room was incredible. Many of the participants are not able to maintain these connections in-person, so the sense of community was particularly profound.

This prompted me to think deeply about what community looks like for Rachel and Janneke. Our girls are not able to unmute and share their feelings with a Zoom community; they need someone to take them into these spaces, whether online or in-person. They can’t experience community without committed support. 

As a child, I watched my mom’s family provide loving care for my uncle John, who had a developmental disability. As time passed, Ontario moved from the institutions to providing small group home living where individuals can flourish interdependently. My uncle John experienced community through his group home with Christian Horizons in Woodstock, and the love his community shared was evident at his funeral. 

A human need

While grateful for the lasting impression my family left on me with their intentional care for my uncle, when I reflect on Rachel and Janneke’s future I have more questions than answers. I’ve been attending virtual workshops with Disability Services Ontario and reading helpful information offered through the Partners for Planning network. I’ve learned about microboards (an organized group of family and friends committed to supporting the individual through life), and I’ve met parents who are years ahead of us. 

Ultimately, I want our girls to be cared for and loved authentically. This is not a special need but a human need that I suspect many of us have. I still have a lot to learn; I’ll keep you posted.

Author

  • The Pot family story includes a life of caregiving for daughters Rachel and Janneke.

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