Olympia is blessed with a program whose goal is the inclusion of senior citizens with developmental disabilities into all the activities of the Olympia Senior Center.
Those activities, housed at The Olympia Center, run the gamut from reading, singing, bingo and current affairs to dancing, physical fitness and Wii sports. People of all physical abilities mix in the various classes and activities. With the Inclusion program, seniors with developmental disabilities are also included in the mix.
The Inclusion program, run by Dawn Gilliam, is an activity and support program for people 55 or older who are enrolled with the Division of Developmental Disabilities. This free program seeks to build acceptance, compassion and understanding among people of diverse abilities in the community.
Gilliam states that she wants to assist individuals to “build the natural support of the participants’ peers.” It is obvious that this program is working; walking into the center you see a wide variety of people, visiting and greeting each other. This is only one of two activity and support programs for seniors with developmental disabilities in the state.
Any class or club on the Senior Center schedule is available to the participants of the Inclusion program, and there are other activities planned to appeal to the Inclusion program participant’s interests, but open to all. Participants may be independent or have a caregiver as they enjoy the activities such as various craft classes.
Too often these are the people who have been told that they “can’t” so long they believe it. Care is taken to not infringe on their feeling of independence and their ability to achieve. There are also volunteer opportunities and people from the program are seen helping around the center, giving participants a chance to give back and increasing their sense of self-worth.
Classes are also offered that help with social interactions and teach positive living skills. Each individual is acknowledged as a unique person who needs individual support.
Gilliam speaks of helping to fill out the paperwork that goes on in everyday life, and certainly seems to pick up as we retire. Support for the participants is there from the staff and other participants, as well as their friends who are not in the program.
One very popular feature of the program is the monthly Inclusion trip.
Van trips have been taken to the Garlic Festival in Centralia, senior lunch at a casino and the holiday lights display. I joined them on a trip to Shipwreck Beads in Lacey. A happier bunch of bead buyers you have never seen.
We became involved in a discussion of the importance of being out with others and the need to enjoy life by being active in the community. The whole experience was wonderful, from the can of soda with friends to the animated discussions in the van and the lively color matching of beads.
One of the participants said, “Bingo and the trips are fun.”
She also enjoys the fact that scholarships are available to the people in the program so all of them are able to take part regardless of their personal financial situation. Those of us not in the Inclusion program must pay full freight, and everyone bought their own beads on the trip to Shipwreck Beads.
Gilliam states, “It is extremely important for people with developmental disabilities to be included in all aspects of society because we have just as much to learn from them as they do from us.”
I agree. The participants are fun and full of love and life, something we all need to learn.
Virginia Towne, a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, retired from the University of Washington as a computer programmer. Towne, who has personal experience with disabilities, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.