ST. LOUIS, Missouri – They say that we tend to befriend those who look like us, so you’d expect that the new friend I made on a recent business trip would be a lot like me: a young, professional, millennial (though I hate to claim the label), White guy from a big city on the East Coast.
In reality, my new friend, Georgia, is a little different.
I met Georgia when work had taken me to St. Louis to attend the annual convention of the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. While I was there, I decided to pay a visit to St. Louis Arc, an ANCOR member and one of the region’s largest providers of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). I met Georgia when I sat down to learn more about St. Louis Arc’s Aging with Empowerment program — a program they affectionately call “AWE.”
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about a program that proclaims “empowerment.” Sure, “Empowered” is in the name of the public awareness campaign I’ve been managing since I joined the ANCOR team four months ago. So often, we hear people talk about how they’re empowering others, but rarely do we truly see empowerment in practice — giving people with I/DD the opportunity to make their own choices, or the opportunity to own their own successes (or even, on occasion, their own failures).