"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.


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

It's the Simple Things

Volunteer Lori has been helping out at Hi-Hope for years, but in recent years she was being recruited to help with administrative projects. For all intents and purposes this was fine, but a few weeks ago she was helping out with a mailing in the Development Office and overheard Nick - Volunteer Coordinator - talking with a current crafting volunteer. Lori mentioned that she was interested in doing that type of activity. Hit the brakes! In fairly short order Nick explained that he would love to have Lori doing something with the individuals we support and while her administrative help was greatly appreciated, working with our folks is certainly the priority.

Nick and Lori had a short conversation about her interests and hobbies and discovered that she is a bit of a painter. After taking Lori through a trial session and orientation, they created a new type of art volunteer - one that works one-on-one with our individuals who are interested in art or who have art-related goals to complete pieces over the course of a couple hours. Lori comes in once a week and rotates so that ultimately all interested parties will have a chance to spend the morning with her tackling a painting project. This type of service is fantastic because we manage to catch two fish with one worm. First, our individuals get to accomplish a personal or programmatic goal, which is always a plus because it demonstrates forward progress. Second, the one-on-one, several hour interaction allows both parties - Lori and whoever she is working with - really get to know each other; to build bonds and learn about one another.

The lesson here is simple: you don't need to think of some cutting edge, avant-garde volunteer activity to really have an impact (although we certainly won't turn that away). Our folks have many of the same hobbies as you so if you are going to do them with someone, why not Steve or Patsy or Howard or any one of the kind and talented people we support. You will create connections, forge friendships, explore your passions and make a difference all at the same time. It's these simple, straight forward types of volunteerism and connection that often make the biggest impact.

If you are interested in even just exploring the idea of volunteering with us, please visit www.hihopecenter.org/volunteer and fill out the short online application. It will get the ball rolling and, hey, if it's not for you, that's ok. That being said, we bet you'll have a blast!

Just Up from Florida

Last week, Hi-Hope was visited by a group of teenagers from Florida who were taking part in a service program called Alive in You. Described as being "part conference, part service camp, 100% Catholic," the program involves teenagers coming together in select cities around the country and, among other things, doing service work for local organizations. This year Hi-Hope was selected to receive a group of kids from a church located in Oviedo, Florida. For three days they commuted out to Lawrenceville from their camp in Atlanta to do service work for our organization. They expected to do similar activities to the other groups: painting, landscaping, cleaning, building, etc. However, at Hi-Hope we are all about interaction; about getting to know each other.

After a short orientation and introduction to our organization they got to "work" playing board games, shooting hoops, painting, walking, talking, and - believe it or not - doing some fairly advanced puppetry. While all the kids were great, one young man named Pablo definitely stole the show with his puppetry talent. Every day he brought along Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear puppets that delighted several of our folks. Not only was Pablo skilled at manipulating the puppets movements, he also did voices and improvised comedic routines. 

On the last day, one of the chaperones pulled me Nick aside and said, "just so you know, we might want to wrap things up a little early today. Your people definitely touched some hearts and minds in our group and I think they are going to be emotional. There might be a few tears." She was right. It was hard to get the kids together on the last day - they simply didn't want to leave. They asked us to track down everyone they had met so they could say "goodbye" in person. When we thanked them for their service as they left, the same chaperone said, "no...thank you. This experience has helped us grow so much and we will never forget it."