|Jan Rasmussen in the 1980s|
One fond memory is the Red Balloon Preschool, Imagine!’s wonderful, short-lived excursion into the daycare business with its innovative business plan of integrating children with special needs and typical children. Parents of children with special needs had the same day care requirements as other parents but, at the time, there was nothing available for them. One of the great things we learned from the Red Balloon was that children are unconcerned about disabilities. They see every child as a playmate and joyfully help a child move puzzle pieces, clap to a song, or even eat their lunch. I am pleased to say we continued our innovation and provided supportive services to local preschools/daycares so that they would begin to welcome children with disabilities into their preschools/daycares. We were so successful that we were able to disband the Red Balloon, successfully integrating children with disabilities into other community settings.
Another striking memory involves a summer when my oldest son (now 21, then 17) worked with Out & About’s summer camp program for kids with developmental disabilities. He could be a challenging young man and, as a parent, I hoped and feared for him on many levels. We were driving home from work together one day, and he turned to me and said; “Now I understand why you get so mad when people use the word “retard” as a casual insult. It’s so unfair and wrong.” I was so struck by his revelation and so pleased and proud that I had to pull the car over for a minute. I firmly believe my son’s experience with individuals with developmental disabilities helped shape who he is, and I could not be happier about how he turned out!
People’s persistence and resilience is astonishing. The thread that stitches together my 34 years and the thousands of families navigating the various incarnations of Imagine! is how privileged I feel to walk along with them and witness their perseverance and determination to do their best for a loved one with a developmental disability. It isn’t that everything is positive. Sad things happen, and sometimes I can’t do anything to help except listen, encourage, support, and make sure families know they are not alone. It helps to remember the wise words of one of my mentors, Lee Coffee, who used to say, “Just because I can’t do anything doesn’t mean I don’t care.” I feel privileged to have grown up with Imagine!, and to have had so many opportunities to intersect and collaborate with such incredible people – individuals with disabilities and their families, Imagine! staff, other organizations, and community members. Happy 50th anniversary Imagine!.
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