I often say, with a bit of snark, that people love to take "holy pictures" with our kids. Few things make a person look more charitable and benevolent than being seen helping a child with special needs.
However, the flip side is also true -- Few things make a person look more wicked than being unkind to a child with a chronic illness or disability.
That is where this week's winners find themselves -- in the arena of the wicked.
In a lovely suburb of Chicago, just a couple hours south of our headquarters, a private facility serving children with developmental challenges recently sought permission from their village board to expand their school to accommodate twice as many students. The Marklund Philip Center for Children in Bloomington, IL would like to build a 12,000 square foot addition to their existing building, where 31 students are currently enrolled. The improved facility would enable them to offer their excellent care and education to 66 students.
|Photo courtesy of Marklund.org|
While I don't want to be dismissive of the concerns of those living in the neighborhood, I would say that this isn't the first time I have seen this type of NIMBY issue create contention around such a remarkable institution.
A number of years ago, our organization helped a local non-profit trying to establish a rural respite campus for kids with special needs get connected and further their mission. Literally, in the middle of a farm field, off the beaten path, neighbors near the future home of Zachariah's Acres had a similar reaction to the neighbors of Marklund. The unfortunate truth in that situation was that one of the town board members was an objecting neighbor. The same concerns arose -- traffic, noise, safety.
When I see situations like this I just have to wonder,
WHAT ARE THESE NEIGHBORS REALLY AFRAID OF? As the president of Marklund stated in his interview, it's hard not to believe that these citizens aren't harboring a prejudice against kids like ours. Why do they want to keep our kids out? Their objections seem relatively trivial.
Ironically, facilities like these can end up being the shining jewel of a community. Employers often love schools like this as they offer a wider range of employee opportunities because their children can avail themselves of such quality centers. Schools with typical students are also able to interface with these establishments offering a broader base of integrated learning. Churches and community organizations usually find themselves coming together in united purpose around such places. It leaves a mother like me completely bewildered over why neighbors like these work so fiercely to oppose such assets.
It can only come down to one thing -- FEAR.
Our children are nothing to be feared! They are people, like anyone else, in need of love and attention. Besides, the average citizen should realize that they are only 1 emergency room visit, 1 doctor's appointment away from being us.
As I sadly shake my head, I am reminded (and also remind YOU) that we still have MUCH work to do in telling our stories to make this world a more inclusive place.
~ Barb Dittrich
*For further reading: "Expansion Plan For Special-Needs School Stirs Controversy in Bloomingdale", CBS 2, Chicago, June 23, 2014; "Compromise suggested for proposed respite facility: Concerns raised over Zachariah's Acres", Living Lake Country, November 9, 2011.