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2013 Spring Issue 7 (May 24, 2013)

“This is My Story”: Carls, Community Build Rewarding Relationships

May 24, 2013
By Ben Strauss

This past Sunday, students listened to individuals, some residents of the Laura Baker Services Organization, some from the local high school and Carleton College, share stories about living with disability. Polly Durant ‘14, a Program Director for College Buddies (the group that organized the event), said, “we pair Carleton students with clients at Laura Baker with a variety of developmental disabilities in one-on-one friendships,”

“What’s neat about these relationships is that they become such an integral part of the Carleton experience for students,” she said. “My buddy, Lee, has become a huge part of my life here at Carleton and certainly one of my very best friends.”

At the event, Lee presented his story. As Durant described it, “Lee sees the best in everyone he meets. We often go to Blue Monday’s or Sayles and he can’t help but ask everyone he sees, “Do I know you?” or “Do you go to Carleton?” When he does see someone he knows, he remembers...and immediately asks ‘How’s that wife doin’?’ or ‘How’s that little boy doin’?’”

At the event, Kim, a participant in the buddy program, also presented her story. “Usually my buddy and I exercise together for half an hour (to a Richard Simmons tape), because it’s something that is important to her health and much more enjoyable with the one on one attention,” said Emily Manahan, a College Buddy. “After exercising we do something fun. We...have gone on walks, gone to the swing set, played with Legos, and done art projects.”

This event showcased the buddies’ significant contributions to the Northfield Community. “I had zero experience in working with individuals with developmental disabilities before coming to Carleton,” said Kalena Miller ‘15, the other Program Director for College Buddies, “but the program taught me so much and has given me a plethora of new experiences and skills.”

When College Buddies organized the event, their “main goal for the event was to give several community members with disabilities a voice in the Carleton dialogue,” said Durant.

Indeed, the event complements other conversations ongoing at Carleton. “Carleton is doing such a phenomenal job beginning to raise awareness about diversity,” said Durant, “and we felt that disability was an important addition to this conversation.”

“It allowed people with disabilities to share their personal experiences and challenges, which I think is very important to promoting understanding and acceptance,” said Manahan.

For these reasons, “the event exceeded all of our expectations--everyone who went came out of the room raving about how eye-opening and exciting the stories were,” said Durant, adding, “The clients and student who spoke all left feeling empowered, which was another of our main goals.”

Students who attended the event found it very educational. “It made me aware of some of the common struggles that people with disabilities face,” said Tenzin Lendey ‘15, “As someone without a disability, I understood how much I took basic skills like seeing and reading for granted.”

In short, students who filled Sayles 251 enjoyed the event a lot. “All the speakers were cultivated and charming.” Lendey said.

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