When we hear the word community, we typically think of larger groups of people who gather around a common purpose (faith, sports, neighbourhoods, social clubs, and so on). We often think of community as participating or having membership in these groups, gatherings or events. However, we can also be involved with smaller communities of people, from a cluster of neighbours, a circle of friends or family, or the familiar faces we see at the store to the community recreation centre, or coffee shop. Further still, community inhabits relational spaces with friends, partners/spouses, siblings, parents, neighbours or co-workers. Community lives in all levels of connection, from larger community events to individual relationships. What happens then, when people do not have a strong sense to community in any of these ways? For many people, the experience of not belonging to any form of community is a daily reality. For adults with developmental disabilities, this reality is too common.
FamilyHome is a program that broke out of a segregated model of supporting adults with disabilities in clustered groups or institutions. It became a model of supporting adults in regular community spaces. Those spaces are people’s homes. FamilyHome is about welcoming an adult with a developmental disability into your home and life to become part of your family. It is grounded in the values of shared relationship and mutually reciprocal benefits and support. It is a way to bring people from the fringes of society into the heart of community to share life together.
As a social model of welcoming, FamilyHome is an example of how to look beyond ourselves, seek others and develop relationships. It is about incorporating people into the fabric of community by bringing another person into our lives. It goes beyond creating opportunities for adults with disabilities to be passive citizens who are simply “in" community (e.g. visiting, observing and watching). Instead, it creates places and spaces for people to be “of" community through membership, contribution and participation. This social model of welcoming can intersect with all groups of people, including (low income, mental health, race, gender and faith. The act of welcoming takes initiative and preparation. In a community, members can prepare a space to be ready for people to participate. In relationships, we prepare ourselves to be ready and open to each other. Welcoming creates the opportunity for people to be “of” community, and is the first step towards belonging. Belonging is another way to say “you’re missed when you’re not here.”
One phrase that we use regularly at Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region is that we're better together. When words such as "Inclusion" and "Belonging" are no longer trendy ideas we strive for, but are normalized as part of our society, that’s when we know we have become a welcoming community. True community does not mean that everyone needs to open their homes. This can be part of it, but it also simply calls us to open ourselves to others. When we recognize the shared human desire to belong, we will want to extend ourselves to knowing others and building a community that truly is better together.
For more information about Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region and the FamilyHome Program, please follow us online.