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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Community Means

What does it mean to be part of the community?

I got a list of summer camps today.  There were hundreds listed.  Janey would be welcomed at none of them.

When searching for after school activities in this area, a big urban area, there are almost none that would accept Janey.  One great exception, which is not close enough to home for us to utilize it, is the Boys and Girls Club.  I wish the one with the fantastic sounding programs was not about an hour's drive from us in afternoon or evening traffic.

A younger Janey and her brother William, in front of our house
The city is full of plays, stores, concerts, museums, restaurants, movies----almost none of which I could take Janey to.

There are lots of wide open spaces around here.  Might be great for Janey---if not for the dogs off leash that run up to her, with well meaning owners saying "Oh, he won't hurt her!  He loves kids!".  Yeah, but Janey is terrified of your dogs, and that makes her unable to use yet another public place.

So, sometimes when I think about including Janey in the community, I get discouraged.  Or I laugh a bitter laugh.

This would be much harder to take if it were not for the fact that in our own little neighborhood, we have found community.

Our neighbors on both sides are wonderful people, people that delight in Janey.  When Janey screams outside, or laughs manically, or just is her own unique self, it means the world to me that I know she is accepted and understood by those living closest to us.

Anyone who has read this blog knows about Janey's love for the "ice cream store", a store that is currently a 7-11, although it's changed names a lot.  We go there almost every day.  She is always welcomed by the staff, and increasingly, by the regular customers.  I can't tell you how many little kindnesses she has been shown there.

The closest few grocery stores know Janey well, and go out of their way to make our shopping with her not only possible, but fun.  One of the workers at the local Shaw's Supermarket has a grandson with autism, and has actually given Janey presents and always gives her a hug.

Janey's new bus aide lives in our neighborhood.  She walks over every morning to ride the bus with Janey, and her sweet, kind nature makes our mornings.

We have a little bubble here, a small world where Janey is truly included in the community.  We have often noticed that she is more accepted here even by people who don't know her than she is in many places.  Our neighborhood is working class.  It's never been gentrified, and probably never will be.  It's not a fancy place.  And perhaps that's part of the reason it's accepting.  People here are not necessarily living the American Dream, defined strictly.  There seems to be more room in their worldview for those who might not be following the script of "good schools, good college, good job, nice house, good vacations, comfortable retirement".

So what does community mean?  It means a place where you are included, where you are accepted and valued and allowed to be part of the action.  We might not have a community in the sense of formal things like camps or lessons or culture, but our neighborhood has made Janey a community member, and that means so very much to us.

I wish the whole world was open to Janey.  In an ideal world, it would be.  But for now, it's good to have our own little corner of reality where Janey is part of the community.

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