There’s often a personal dearness to people with developmental disabilities — and always a public importance to the agencies that support them.
This was certainly evident at the recent funeral of Linda (last names withheld for privacy), a woman with developmental disabilities who was a resident in a New Horizons Resources’ group home for 20 years.
Linda was a quiet, fashionable woman with a great desire and ability to be part of community life. Her favorite color was pink, and all the mourners at the funeral were encouraged to wear some pink items. The minister, Pastor Steve, was understanding and funny in describing how Linda, “always turned out, just so,” would give him a perfunctory greeting, as she sized up the social situation in the church, looking for greater action.
With her housemates, Alison and Alicia, Linda formed the Gerry Road singers, performing at nursing homes and special events, under the direction of Peter Muir of the Institute for Music and Health.
When I entered the funeral I recognized another New Horizons resident, Shonta, who graciously asked me to sit down next to her, as she effortlessly took the lead in our conversation. Shonta proudly told me that at a good-bye gathering for the retiring executive director, Bill Beattie, she spoke and said something funny.
When I asked Shonta what she said, she casually replied, “I have no idea.” I was amazed! And I still don’t know if she entirely forgot, was being modest or just lost interested in that detail, since she continued her lovely social ways without missing a beat.
In any case, the difference and dearness of people with developmental disabilities is always present, always important.
This is exactly what Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro was talking about a few days later as a speaker at Beattie’s official retirement party.
Molinaro, whose 11-year-old daughter, Abigail, has disabilities, thanked Beattie, New Horizons and the other agencies present — Greystone and the Anderson Center for Autism — for making our community a place where Abigail will be “better understood and more welcome.”
The county executive also referred to the prejudice against people with disabilities as America’s “last great civil rights frontier.”
Beattie has seen this up close.
He worked in the disability field for 47 years, the last 35 years at New Horizons, where he started as a direct care worker, rose through the ranks and retired as executive director.
And to his great credit, Beattie liked every single person with disabilities he met.
Starting today, Sam Laganaro, a former human rights attorney, whose low-key demeanor ultimately fails to camouflage his great intelligence, is the new executive director at New Horizons Resources. He now takes on all the joy and responsibility of supporting people with developmental disabilities and of guaranteeing their place in our community.