Community Inclusion August 27, 2019 – Posted in: Global News

Angela is one of our rock stars here at AtWork!. She’s been with us for seven years and loves what she does. I got the privilege of shadowing her on a beautiful summer Wednesday to learn more about Community Inclusion,

the people we serve, and their goals. On this particular day,we went to go see Steven and Caitlin.

We arrive at Hopelink and met Steven at the door. He’s excited to see Angela and eager to meet me. After exchanging initial pleasantries, we turn to enter the building but just then, a person walking a dog passes by. Now for most of us, we wouldn’t consider this to be a big event, but for Steven it is. Steven really doesn’t like dogs. He used to react by loudly, shouting at the dog and making a scene due to his fear of the animal, but this time is different.

“I know there’s a dog, but what do we do?” says Angela in a calm and level voice. “Look away,” responds Steven, and he looks away. He continues to tell us why he doesn’t like dogs and doesn’t understand why people do, but overall he’s calm and collected.

This is a big deal for Steven. The difference between his prior behaviors around dogs to now is incredible. Angela and her team have been working with him, and though he still needs support; to acknowledge the issue and calm the reaction, he’s come a very long way.

Once inside, Steven leads the way and shows us to the break room. Hopelink really knows Steven, just as well as he knows them. He waves and says hi to all the volunteers as we wind down the colorful hallways.

When we enter the break room, Steven turns and asks Angela if he can make her some coffee. We chat about the weather, the local happenings at his home, and what’s been up with his best friend Jackie. Angela asks him why he likes to volunteer here, “To help the poor and the babies. I like to help babies.” Steven responds. She asks him to let her know when he’s ready to start volunteering to encourage his independence, and he does so once he’s finished his classic glazed donut.

Steven comes here once a week to package baby diapers and to spend time with his friends and fellow volunteers. He’s very comfortable here. He feels safe, welcomed, and a part of a community greater than the sum of its parts. Once noon rolls around, the whole break room swells with volunteers who know his name. They sit and enjoy their lunches together, sharing food and catching up with each other’s lives. I learned a lot about Hopelink and their volunteers that day, and how they’re all dedicated to their mission and helping their community. Hopelink was established in 1971 and serves homeless and low-income families, children, seniors, and people with disabilities in King and Snohomish counties. They provide stability and help people gain skills and knowledge they need to exit poverty for good. Their service centers, housing, and transportation programs help more than 63,000 people every year.

When it’s time to go, Steven leads us to the lobby. We stop for a moment to say goodbye, he waits at Hopelink for his ride and bids us farewell. Then it’s off to Shoreline to see Caitie!

We meet Caitie at Third Place Books in Lake Forrest Park, a charming shopping center with plenty of activities and things to browse. She runs to Angela in excitement.

“Do you want to get a brownie?” Angela asks as we enter the impressive space. “Brownie!” Caitie exclaims and does her excited hands. We head for Honey Bear Bakery and get in line. As we get closer to the register, Angela leads Caitie in how to pay for her brownie and how to collect her change. The gentleman at the register is kind and patient with her as they complete the transaction.

After Caitie finishes her brownie, we head for the Children’s book section where there are lots of things to explore. This is what we’re practicing today, having Caitie browse and choose something for herself. Something that she couldn’t really do before. We browse the books and toys, looking at the pictures and bright colors that surround us. I grab a couple of finger puppets and have them talk to Caitie as she chooses her book for storytime.

Caitie’s transition in Community Inclusion has been nothing short of amazing. Caitie used to have very high anxiety when it came to leaving the house and being in open spaces. She used to be incredibly uncomfortable in public and would shriek and grip Angela’s when frightened. When they’d come to Third Place Books, they used to only spend a few minutes before Caitie would make her request to leave known. Today, they sit quietly in the kid’s section eagerly flipping pages. She feels safe now, secure and comfortable in this open space.

Angela tells me that she’s looking for a story group that meets on Wednesdays that she would introduce Caitie to so she could enjoy storytime with her community rather than just Angela and myself. It’s a great goal, and I can tell Caitie would love it, almost as much as she loves hearing Angela read to her as she smiled at the nearby children browsing as well.

The day was all in all an incredible day of inclusion and community. From Steven’s quick wit to Caitie’s gentle nature, and all the moments in-between. Community Inclusion is an incredibly important part of what AtWork! does. We support people in every phase of their life to be integrated and supported by their communities so that they have a quality of life we would all aspire for.