Why the Film Festival Matters

If you follow Hi-Hope's social media platforms, visit the website, or are on one of our major mailing lists, chances are you have heard about our upcoming film festival. The Sprout Film Festival Atlanta was an exploratory project for Hi-Hope last year and, despite some technical difficulties, it was well received. This convinced us that this was the type of thing that we wanted to continue. It's unique, allows us to touch new and different communities, and its genuinely entertaining. But, there is more to this film festival than the experience (which is very important) - there is the "artistry" behind it.

In case you don't know what I am talking about, Hi-Hope is hosting a film festival at Oglethorpe University's Conant Performing Arts Center on September 30th from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm. We will be screening "12 entertaining and memorable short films featuring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities." What's more, this event is the only film festival in the entire state of Georgia that boasts a lineup of films featuring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). We added to the experience by including a moderated response panel of I/DD sector experts after the show.

Why call it "Sprout?" There is actually a little bit of a story to the name. See, a while back our CEO, Susan Boland Butts, was at a conference where the keynote speaker was a man named Anthony Di Salvo. Mr. Di Salvo is the founder and Executive Director of Sprout, a New York-based nonprofit that offers innovative programming related to the field of I/DD. In 2006 he created the Sprout Film Festival and in 2009 he launched Sproutflix - a distributor of these films. Sproutflix is now the mechanism by which several Sprout Film Festivals exist all over the country. Susan was inspired by the presentation and brought the idea to Hi-Hope and it took.

Last year we partnered with Emory University's Disability Studies Initiative to host the festival in the Harland Cinema at Emory. It was extremely important to find a real theater venue for the event to create a true, shared, theater experience for festival goers. It is a way of showing respect to the artists that created the films - they are well done pieces of art created to be experienced as films. By hosting the film festival, Hi-Hope can ensure that we feature each piece at a nice event with a genuine theater for the venue. Volunteer Coordinator Nick Reynolds had this to say about the festival: "I think people assume these are going to be like home movies or 'let's pity these folks' documentaries, but they really aren't. These films are very well done, they are real celebrations of art and creativity and vision. Anyone that attends the festival will experience these movies as movies and not some sort of intellectual exercise. That being said, they are very thought provoking and make for some really good dialogue after the fact."

The film festival is important as art. It is important as a form of advocacy for inclusion. It is important because it gives a historically "silenced" population a voice. Aside from the narrative films and music videos, many of the shorts are relatively unscripted giving the stars control over the direction of the films and the messaging. The audience gets a real honest look at the subject matter. The festival is important because it focuses on a significant part of our society that is regularly ignored.

So come to the festival this year and experience it in person. Come without expectation or objective. Come and enjoy the artistry and have a good time with your Hi-Hope family.

Family Gathering

Two weeks ago Hi-Hope celebrated our community by throwing a cookout. The event was cosponsored by our friends from the Shah Law Firm. This impromptu event came together in a sort of magical way - a combination of coincidence, luck, and the fact that the world really is a small place.

See, a couple months ago one of the lawyers from the Shah Firm reached out to our Janis Hunter to inquire about services for a friend. In her inquiry she mentioned that her group loved to volunteer and had recently hosted a game night at Side by Side Clubhouse in Stone Mountain. Janis passed this information to our Volunteer Coordinator - Nick Reynolds. As it turns out, the Development Director at Side by Side is married to Nick. So Nick went home and asked about the Shah folks and his wife gushed about them: "they are amazing and so generous. They genuinely want to help and really go the extra mile." The very next day Nick and Hi-Hope's Chief Development Officer, Keith Fenton, brainstormed the idea of the Midsummer Blast - a casual cookout to bring our community together for some food, socializing and fun.

And that is precisely what happened. To get a visual idea of the evening, visit our Facebook page and check out the Midsummer Blast album. However, if you are Facebook-averse, we can tell you that it was a fantastic party despite the heat and the sun forcing us to rework our layout a little bit at the start. We served hot dogs and hamburgers, potato salad, beans, chips and watermelon and had plenty for everyone (tons of leftovers). Some folks sat at our picnic tables and got to know each other better while others took to playing corn hole and doing chalk art. We even had a few folks meander inside from some foosball and airhockey action. Suffice to say, it was great and the fine folks from The Shah Law Firm helped with pretty much everything. There was also a silent champion for the event. See, since we started the renovation we got rid of most of our extra tables and chairs and were lacking enough of those to accommodate the 100 some people who RSVPed for the event. Thankfully TLC Rents down in Atlanta loaned us all of that stuff for free so everyone had a place to sit and relax and chow down.

So, thanks to The Shah Law Firm, TLC Rents, the family members, Keith Fenton who did almost all the cooking and everyone who came and made our Midsummer Blast and evening to remember. And if you missed it, don't worry. We are already thinking about the next family event to bring our family closer together. 

Legend

"I've been coming here for a while and I'm a legend," says Patsy through a wide and slightly mischievous smile. Whenever she grins, you have the impression that you are about to get into something really good, if not a little bit impish. But Patsy - real name Evelyn Patricia - isn't really trouble, it's just something about her Cuban/Italian/New Jersey upbringing that manifests itself in an edgy playfulness. She has this whole Jersey flair to her.  It's fly sneakers and a backwards baseball cap and a sideways peace sign every time she poses for a photo. It is this distinctive and extroverted style that resulted in many folks calling her "Hollywood" - a title based on style, popularity and a larger-than-life personality all wrapped up in one package. Her ability to stand out is such that it landed her a position on our Client Council as the Vice President so might add "leader" to the list of words that describe her too. Still, "legend" is a very appropriate moniker.

Here are a few things about Patsy that will help you - our gracious audience - get to know her a little better. Patsy is a fan of R&B and rap. When we had a volunteer leading a dancing group, Patsy would stare at the instructor sarcastically while she taught played pop, Latin, and country music. No degree of cajoling to convince her to get up and move. But, put on something by Queen Latifah, DMX or Da Brat and her sparkling sneakers would be glistening with each movement as she got her groove on.

Other favorites for Patsy include the New York Knicks, eating Ho Hos, the movie Love & Basketball and the November/December holidays because "I get to eat and sleep" she says laughing. She's also your person if you want to veg out and watch anything on the Lifetime channel because she enjoys most of their programming. Additionally, she hopes to visit California one day so she can experience her namesake - Hollywood.

Patsy also had some thoughts about Hi-Hope. When she's here she really likes to hang out and cut up with her friends.  She likes Kalandra because she's her staff and Jasmyn because "she's like cool." She also said of Charmaine that "she's like a mother to me" because she calls her out when she starts stirring up "trouble." 

Yes indeed, Patsy really is someone to behold. So much personality, so much fun, so much joie de vivre. Supervisor Tarnisha had this to say about her: "She's determined...determined to be an advocate for her peers. She's stylish and she's fun to be around. She's popular...everybody knows Hollywood." And that, folks, is why she is a legend.

Rush

Last week was something special at Hi-Hope thanks to the annual occurrence of Perimeter Church's Rush Conference. You can learn more about the conference at the website listed at the end of this post, but in essence it is a student lead and attended conference that involves seminars, small group meetings, service projects and a whole lot more. Hi-Hope has been extremely fortunate to be one of the service project locations several times. Over the course of the three day conference, different groups visit Hi-Hope every day to help in whatever way they can and this year has been absolutely awesome. 

Each day the student groups spent their first hour socializing with the individuals we support. They seamlessly join into outdoor activities like basketball, walking, drawing and reviewing Pokemon guidebooks (yes, a very specific bonding opportunity). Afterward they were tasked with some seriously laborious stuff - namely the laying of mulch in front of our building in direct sunlight in 95 degree heat (don't worry, we had lots of water, salty snacks and AC breaks readily available). The saving grace was that the groups were from Mississippi, Florida and Virginia and none seemed particularly put off by the weather. Meanwhile, Minnesota-native Volunteer Coordinator Nick Reynolds cowered in the shade and still managed to sweat through his clothes. While the first two groups did the mulch, the third tackled the monumental task of sorting through the materials stored in the old Department of Transportation buildings in preparation for the next phase of our campus upgrade.

Why have them do all this? Partially because our individuals were only here for part of the time they came to serve (the first hour). It is always a priority to let volunteers interact with our folks because those relationships are crucial to fulfilling our mission of offering integrated opportunities for learning, work and leisure. The second reason is that this type of stuff ALWAYS gets done faster and better when volunteers are involved. The third reason is that it directly contributes to our ability to provide quality support by giving our folks an aesthetically pleasing environment to spend time. Finally, our campus upgrade can't move forward without prepping the DOT buildings.

So, these young folks directly contributed to virtually all aspects of what we do - they served our individuals, they improved our facilities and they prepared us to move forward with our upgrade. You have to love when something like this happens, especially when it involves young folks. In fact, on day when we were laying mulch a woman approached Nick and asked what was going on. When she learned about the project, she remarked "isn't it beautiful to see young folks doing something positive for the community. It makes me so happy. It's such a good thing." Well said.

To learn more about Rush, please visit https://www.perimeter.org/rush/ 

An Approach and a Movement in a Word: Neurodiversity

Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of "neurodiversity" that has been floating around in the world of intellectual and developmental disabilities for several years. If you are, that's great, but to a good many this approach and movement is a relative mystery. Here is an opportunity to improve your basic understanding of this concept so that the next time neurodiversity comes up, you will be in the know.

John Elder Robison, a scholar in residence and a co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William and Mary writes, “neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.” Furthermore, the 2011 National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University asserts that these neurological differences should be recognized and respected as any other type of human variation. That is where the movement component comes into play. Neurodiversity can be experienced as a social movement that advocates for viewing certain neurological conditions as variations in human wiring and not diseases.

This is a huge concept about which there has been much critical analysis and review, but one of the main reasons it comes up so frequently relates to employment. See, it probably won't surprise you to learn that people with disabilities frequently face discrimination when it comes to employment (often right from the start during the hiring process). That being the case, the Harvard Business Review recently published an article (link below) that describes neurodiversity as a "competitive advantage."

The article acknowledges that "neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations, such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, to activate or maximally leverage their abilities. Sometimes they exhibit challenging eccentricities. In many cases the accommodations and challenges are manageable and the potential returns are great. But to realize the benefits, most companies would have to adjust their recruitment, selection, and career development policies to reflect a broader definition of talent." That being said, the article highlights a number of companies that have made these adjustments, such as Microsoft, SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ford and many more. A Walgreens distribution center in Anderson, S.C. made an effort and in 2008 roughly 40% of their workforce of 700 identified as having a disability.

The employment aspect is just one component of a much larger social movement. The point is that now you hopefully have a better (or brand new) understanding of neurodiversity. And, perhaps, the next time you interact with a neurodiverse individual you might perceive them differently; seeing them for their inherent abilities and skills.

The Harvard Business Review article can be found at the following website: https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage