Mentor and panelist Joycelyn Roy says she gained numerous opportunities and life skills from participating in the Community Counts! program.
By Eliza Marie Somers
With quality nourishment and rays of sunshine a garden blossoms, so it is true with people when they are given a chance to expand their boundaries with guidance and support.
While members of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) community who participated in the Community Counts! seminars educated people about the needs, wants and difficulties they face, the panelists reaped a harvest of benefits from the program created by CTAT, LLC, in conjunction with the City and County of Denver to encourage inclusion for people with I/DD.
“I’ve gained a lot of opportunities from this program,” said Jocelyn Roy, who has been a Community Counts! panelist and mentor. “I’m more confident. I’m more independent. People who have watched the seminars have come up to me. Random people. I got a job because of this program, and I’m in a leadership role. I never thought I’d be in a leadership role in my life.”
“It’s bittersweet the program is ending … It’s a little emotional for me,” she said. “I love this program. It built me up to be a better person. It’s a big accomplishment in my life.”
First-year panelist Dan Barzen said the program allowed him to open up about his life experiences.
“I shared more than I ever have, more than any time in my life,” Barzen said. “I feel like I have learned to trust myself. I’m more confident, and I advocate for myself.”
Barzen also explained how the other panelists and mentors have influenced his life.
“I have a new perspective of other people. Everyone here has something special to share. It’s been valuable for me,” he said. “I’ve learned how to be more accommodating; to be more understanding, and to acknowledge that each person is different. If you give people the right support and accommodations you set them up for success.”
Alan Staude is using the skills he learned from the Community Counts! program to bring more awareness of the I/DD community to his workplace, and is advocating for a role in the hiring process.
“This program allowed me to bring up better ideas to help individuals in the workforce … to incorporate those ideas into the job I have. I want to help employees through the hiring process to see someone who has already been there and has I/DD,” he explained. “I’ve planted the seed, but it hasn’t bear fruit yet. I need to water the orchard.”
He then drew upon astronaut Neil Armstrong: “One small step for man, one giant leap for the I/DD community,” Staude said.
Jake Miller also wants to take what he learned into the community.
“This program touched my heart, and I will use the skills I learned in the future,” Miller said. “I learned a lot from this program. I understand more about the I/DD community. I want to help and teach other people to be nice to the I/DD community.”
Gwenn Merrill said she learned how to speak to people and now has a job at Pizzability. Merrill’s mentor Erin Bargman acknowledged her computer skills improved because of the program and the switch to online sessions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second-year participant Chris Patton said he is grateful for the opportunity to be a mentor and help people with I/DD. “I felt I grew from the start, and I’m finding new ways to make friends from teaching,” he explained. “I loved sharing a panel with everyone. People are amazing.”
Dennis Carbrey, who has been with Community Counts! from the start, said he was glad to take part in the program.
“This program means a lot to me. I want to teach others what I learned,” he said. “I enjoyed being a mentor, and I didn’t know what it was when we started. It’s been great.”
Adrien Law explained he now has an easier time talking to people and shared some words of wisdom for all of us at the final seminar: “There’s a light behind every shadow, and try to find that before you are lost.”
Adam Barrow said he hopes to carry on the friendships he developed during the program. “I hope to see others in the future. This has been a fun experience,” he said. “It’s been a really good education in how to engage and enlighten other folks and myself.”
The panelists and mentors were not just inspirational to one another, but by sharing their experiences they touched the people who hosted and facilitated the Community Counts! program.
“It’s been terrific to watch you grow, not just in confidence but in the friendships that have developed over the years. It was a nice unexpected and beautiful outcome,” Linda Drake, Career Exploration and Development Center Specialist with Bayaud Enterprises, told the group.
“We’ve watched you grow, and it’s been a real pleasure for us. Personally, you are near and dear to my heart,” CTAT facilitator and coach Joanne Cohen said.
Her business partner, Gayann Brandenburg echoed those sentiments. “It’s been great to see all of you open up and be so honest in sharing personal stories. The joy has been in watching you all blossom. … Everyone is working more hours, and some have new jobs. It’s great to see that your lives have gotten bigger.”
To keep the participants on the path of growth, Staude shared some excellent advice. “Remember to be strong, and do not hide behind your personal struggles. Look to the next day and not the past.”