Luis wished he could change Frank’s circumstances or make a larger impact, but when he would ask Ralph if he needed anything, Ralph would simply shake his head and say, “I just need visits.”
Do For One is a relationship-building program that brings isolated people into greater community life. We selectively match one person with developmental disabilities (‘partner’) with another person who enjoys a more socially included life (‘advocate’).
We then support voluntary advocates as they strive to understand, represent, and respond to the interests of their partner.
As Do For One relationships look forward to the fall season, crowded schedules and competing agendas is likely to be a challenge. Ruth Haley Barton asks, “To what extent do you feel you are arranging your life around what you say you want?”
There is often a disconnect between what we truly want and what we actually end up doing. We treat life like an amusement park where bragging rights go to the one who rides the tallest, fastest, and scariest ride. We strap ourselves in and let the tracks (a.k.a. our calendars) dictate where we go.
Why does this happen? Our sense of self-worth is commonly wrapped up in external things that drive our decisions. Henri Nouwen breaks this down into three lies we tell ourselves about our identity: I am what I have, I am what I do, and I am what other people say or think of me. For example, you make ‘X’ decision because the result will be having more money, doing more important or prestigious work, and people saying flattering things about you.
Henri Nouwen was a catholic priest and writer who taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. After a lifetime of seeking, he finally found his home in Canada, as pastor of L'Arche Daybreak where people with developmental disabilities and their assistants live together in community. Henri Nouwen writes, “People with handicaps teach me that being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind, and caring together is better than caring alone.”
I have found that many of my close friends with developmental disabilities don’t care all that much about what I have, what I do, or how popular I might be among peers. What they care about most is that my love for them is authentic and that I’m not too rushed to spend time with them.
Perhaps this is because people with developmental disabilities are often left with wasted time and potential due to a lack of support from those who are outside of the services system. Ben Drew, Founder of Open Future Learning posted this chart which illustrates the status of 236 people with intellectual disabilities who were visited at 8:00PM on Thursdays and Fridays. The homes were all in the community. They visited people who had lived at home, supported living, group homes, and nursing homes.
The results are revealing and very sad.
In this chart, we see the proportions of people’s status who have little to no opportunity to share their talent, gifts, wisdom, and friendship with.
Do For One advocates respond to this time-wasting (a.k.a. life-wasting) issue by assisting their partners with job exploration or volunteer opportunities, developing a skill, finding a platform for a skill (e.g. poetry, music) or simply enjoying a particular hobby they both love.
As Mitchell Peters of Australia Citizen Advocacy says, “… advocates continue to cultivate the garden of potential of their (‘partners’). And in doing so, citizen advocates are demonstrating it is time for killing off the assumption that perpetually killing time is an acceptable fate for people with disabilities.”
Being an advocate does not mean you’re being sent away to join Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity! Being an advocate does not mean you’re adding some thing to your schedule. Being an advocate means that you are inviting someone into your life. Being an advocate means that someone is inviting you into their life as well.
To make your commitment feel natural; consider your personality and schedule. Do you jog? Do you frequent museums? Are you good with budgeting or general life management? You might be surprised at how these ordinary skills and interests could be life-changing moments when you invite your partner into what you’d normally be doing anyway (or at least things you wish to be doing). Here are some examples we’ve seen advocates and partners do together.
Go to the gym
Go grocery shopping
Watch a movie
Attend a wedding
Pray or talk on the phone
Walk the dog
Make homemade bread
Meet on lunch break for work
As we deepen our commitments, it is quite possible that what we truly want in life will become less and less at odds with what we actually end up doing.
The importance of relationships, hospitality, and most importantly, a changed heart.