When I learned about Main Street, I joined not once, but twice. And it was not a mistake! I wanted a family membership and also a professional membership.
As a parent of a thirteen-year-old with autism, I was already involved with many organizations for families like ours, and it was at one of these organizations where I first heard Jillian Copeland speak about Main Street. Even though my son Ben is still years away from wanting to live independently, I could not wait to sign up as a member.
By joining Main Street, I would not only be able to participate in activities, I would get to be part of a movement to help people with developmental disabilities – and their families – be less isolated. When you learn that your child has autism, you immediately become a member of a community that you never chose to join. The community I have found at Main Street is one I think anyone would want to join. The people are smart, kind, interesting – the kind of people you want to be around. Everyone there has had to adapt their lives to make sure their loved ones feel included. Because most of the families have children older than my son, I can ask people what things will be like for us when my son gets older. These families, and this community, give me hope, and I am so happy that Main Street will be there for my son as he gets older.
At Main Street activities, I have been able to connect with others who share the same challenges and joys. While volunteering at Scotland Neighborhood Park on Good Deeds Day earlier this year, a group from Main Street helped clear a trail, using rakes to move away excess dirt, using clippers to remove exposed roots and improving the slope of the trail. I loved being in nature and doing physical work while feeling a sense of true belonging and community. I was in the midst of clearing weeds when I heard someone yell, “Great job, David!” I looked up and noticed that one of our group members who has limited mobility was helping on the wooded trail. I was struck by how truly inclusive the Main Street community is and I felt so grateful to be part of it. I also appreciated that we were using our day to help another community in need by clearing their trail.
I am lucky right now in that my professional life overlaps with my family life. I work at SEEC (Seeking Employment, Equality, and Community for People with Developmental Disabilities), a nonprofit agency that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live lives of their choosing. SEEC’s services include discovery, workforce development, Project Search, Parent 2 Parent and community living. I serve as a job developer at SEEC, meaning that I approach businesses and talk with the managers about hiring someone with a developmental disability. I explain the benefits of hiring someone who is not neurotypical such as the Maryland Disability Employment Tax Credit and the positive effect on workplace efficiency and culture. I also explain how a job can be customized for someone with special needs and what SEEC can do to help. In addition to hiring those with special needs, organizations may also partner with SEEC by reviewing resumes, participating in mock interviews and serving on our Business Advisory Council (BAC).
As with Main Street, SEEC’s goal is to help people with developmental disabilities make connections and accomplish their goals. Both Main Street and SEEC are community-focused. By connecting people of different ages and abilities, they foster meaningful interactions and create opportunities to build friendships and independence.
When other Main Street families find out that I work at SEEC, we often have a lot to talk about. Some families are already involved in SEEC and they give me feedback on their experiences. I try to explain to them how SEEC works. At one Main Street event, I was able to play games with members of some families who were also served by SEEC. It allowed me to get to know some job seekers and their families on a personal level. This made my work feel even more meaningful.
As a job developer, I work with a team to gather all relevant information about the job seeker as a whole person. We aim to find the best job we can for that individual based on their skills, their life interests and their passions. The team and I recently found a customized position for a young woman named Cris at Sweetly Anchored Patisserie, a bakery in Cabin John Mall in Potomac. When I help someone find a job, I’m happy for them, I’m happy for me and I’m happy to be part of building a world that will be more welcoming for people like my son.
“I wanna be an actor,” Ben told me after his Bar Mitzvah. Many guests had complimented Ben on the British accent that he used during his Bar Mitzvah speech. Ben said he loved how he made people laugh, and that he wanted a job that he was good at and liked doing. I want the same for him and all our job seekers at SEEC and Main Street.
While we can’t all be actors, we can all have joy in our lives through the meaningful work and activities we do. Whether as a mom or as a professional, at Main Street and at SEEC, I try to help make dreams and jobs come true.
If you have any questions for Katie about SEEC, please email her at KSmeltz@seeconline.org. Or if you want to get together as families, please email her at Katie.Smeltz@gmail.com.