On April 17, 2008, SEEC celebrated its 20th Anniversary at a gala event at the Bethesda Hyatt Regency. Below is the content of a speech made by Karen J. Lee, SEEC's executive director, to more than 300 people in attendance. This eloquent speech personifies SEEC's core mission to see each person as a true individual and provide him or her with the supports to live a full and happy life.
The American Dream: A Patchwork Quilt
Speech made by Executive Director, Karen J. Lee, at SEEC's 20th Anniversary Celebration, April 17th, 2008
Imagine your life as a patchwork quilt.
There would be a patch for family, a patch for different jobs you've had, a few patches for your friends, and a few for your hobbies and clubs.
There would be patches for your home, and your favorite vacation spots.
Your quilt is a picture of your own personal American Dream.
For people with developmental disabilities, there are often not as many patches, and their quilts are not as vibrant.
SEEC is here to support people who have developmental disabilities as they create a quilt reflective of their American dream.
The pioneers who founded SEEC 20 years ago envisioned a more vibrant quilt for people with developmental disabilities. Back in 1988 it was one of the few organizations in Maryland that believed in community employment for adults with significant disabilitie. The backing of our quilt is community. Supports are provided throughout the community in workplaces, neighborhoods, recreation centers, churches, movie theaters, and classes.
In 1993, SEEC again led the field in Maryland by adding another patch to the American Dream… through a program we call Community Living. SEEC's Community Living program supports people in their own home. No matter the significance of disability or the supports a person needs, SEEC knows that when you control where you live and who you live with, you control your own life.
In 1995, SEEC added another patch to the quilt with an innovative program to enhance recreation and social relationships in the community for people with developmental disabilities. The most recent quilt patch is SEEC's Family Support Services program. This has been a wonderful addition to SEEC, allowing us to financially support families of children under 21 so their sons and daughters can go to camp, have a new bike for their birthday, take piano lessons, or buy new clothes for school.
Allow me to share a few stories about the American Dream quilts SEEC has helped create:
I met Laura 15 years ago when she called and told me she wanted to work. She was in a sheltered workshop for people with developmental disabilities making 13 cents an hour doing piece work. She told me she dreamed of working with kids.
When she and I met I knew helping her find a job would be a real challenge as she had never worked in the community. Together Laura and I were able to secure her first job was an assistant at a local day care. After two years, she decided she wanted to try her hand at something different. She became an assistant at Gertel Furniture, and then worked at Hardees Restaurant. But, she didn't stay at these positions for long. The fit just wasn't right.
For the past 7 years Laura has worked for the Federal Government at the Consumer Product Safety Commission where she makes over $12 an hour, working 20 hours a week. With the help of technology and a few wooden jigs we made for her, Laura opens mail, stamps it "Received", and delivers it. Laura has a job coach from SEEC who checks in with her once a week. She uses the money from her paycheck to add patches to her quilt. Her two favorite things to do are shopping and listening to the music of her favorite band "Nickleback". She is currently planning a summer vacation to the Virgin Islands, and goes out to lunch once a week with a friend. Laura's quilt and her life are vibrant and rich. Laura, please say hi to everyone!
Now I would like to introduce you to Bill and Elmer.
For most of their lives, Bill and Elmer lived in a state institution where they shared their living space with 30 other people, had no say in where or what they ate, and could not decorate their room. Their quilt was clearly not of their own design.
In 1993, SEEC helped Bill and Elmer leave the institution. Five years later, SEEC staff helped the two friends become home owners. When searching for a home, they were shown a number of different houses. Because neither of them use words to tell us what they like, we have to use observations. Elmer clearly communicated to us which home he wanted. He entered homes, looked around, and walked out. When he entered the home where they now reside, Elmer walked in, opened all of the cupboard doors, ran upstairs to look into each room, came down into the living room, and started jumping up and down clapping his hands….his actions spoke: this was Elmer's home.
Now, 16 years later, the patches of Bill and Elmer's quilt are bolder and more vibrant. They have decorated their home, planted flowers in their garden, and made friends with their neighbors. They use their monthly SSI checks to pay their mortgage, and have staff to support them 24 hours a day. They own their home and take great pride in it! Bill and Elmer's quilts are full of their American Dream patches.
The stories of people's connections in the community through recreation and relationships could fill a whole night. So I'll just share a few of the amazing connections that people have made in the community.
With the help of SEEC, people with developmental disabilities have the opportunity to create their own American Dream quilts that include jobs, a home of their own, vacations, classes, friends, and loved ones.
Chris and Caroline venture out for a day to get their nails done;
Joe loves to swim at the community pool;
Phil and Maura celebrated their 2nd honeymoon in Jamaica;
Bill has his own personal barista at Starbucks, Achew, who knows exactly how to make his coffee,
and he gets free refills;
Graham and Anna visit during his haircuts;
Teddy and Jeffry celebrate at a co-workers birthday;
Liz takes piano lessons at Montgomery College and entertains us all;
Jeffry takes a pottery class and meets some new friends;
Gary and his mom celebrate a special birthday at a local restaurant;
Joshua gets a new bike so he can ride with his friends;
Darren enjoys breaks with his co-workers.
This would not be possible if we didn't believe that people with developmental disabilities were deserving of the American Dream. Legislators, employers, generous donors such as you make these dreams possible.