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Panel discusses disability programs

Alex Winegar | Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hannah and Friends held a panel discussion on Wednesday night at Saint Mary’s to encourage other students to join their campaign to help take the “dis” out of disabilities.

Hannah and Friends promotes awareness through the “Be a Friend” presentation that is put on at different elementary schools, program director Maureen Parsons said.

“We target our program to elementary school kids and our main message behind it is that everyone wants a friend. And sometimes the problem is that people aren’t exposed to people with different abilities so they have these preconceived notions as to how its going to be and they don’t know what to say or how to act so our thing is to act the way you would to any other individual,” Parsons said.

According to the website, Hannah and Friends built a residential neighborhood that includes three houses in the South Bend area and strives to create a safe and affordable environment for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Matt Coleman, a three-year resident of Hannah and Friends, considers himself fortunate to be a resident. He said moving there changed his perspective in a lot of ways and believes it has been a good experience.

“Lets just say, [being] accepted there is a really big help and before Hannah and Friends … my mom kept [me] on the waiting list and being on the waiting list takes a big toll so I was very lucky to be on the top of the lists in 2010,” Coleman said.

Chris Tidmarsh, founder of Green Bridge Growers and a resident of Hannah and Friends, said he recently built a greenhouse at the residence. He and his mother began the company to employ people on the autism spectrum who have had trouble keeping jobs in the past, he said.

“We built a green house at Hannah and Friends as a prototype and we hope to expand to other sites eventually and have an actual business going.” Tidmarsh said. “Twice a month there are fun events [at Hannah and Friends] for not only the residents, but also the volunteers and local people.”

“I go to game times and they have a karaoke time [and dance party] once a month so I like to go to those. They have lots of different activities for Hannah and Friends participants.”

Tidmarsh said many people use the “r-word” haphazardly and it is considered disrespectful and hurtful to those who have special needs.

“I get offended when I hear it. It refers to a different kind of ability than our own but I still find it offensive. What to do about it is to spread awareness about it through programs and schools. At a personal level it would be a good idea to tell someone that you do not like them using that word,” Tidmarsh said.

Coleman said he harnessed his inner strength to succeed during high school.

“I just fight mentally hard to be who I am. I basically fought hard for myself because when I was in high school I had to do it myself, I didn’t have any friends and just focused on getting that diploma and I actually ended up on the honor roll,” Coleman said.

Currently, Hannah and Friends is at maximum capacity with currently twelve residents, Parsons said.

“The neighborhood is on well water, we are not on city water and so there are limits to how many buildings we can have,” Parsons said. “Right now we are at capacity, we have three homes and we are building an activities center now. So it’s kind of like we could build our activities center or build a fourth home and we would be able to reach more individuals with the activities center than building a home for four individuals.”

Parsons said Hannah and Friends works to raise awareness in the community by having fundraisers, but it is mostly about letting the community know that the group is stronger than ever.

“A lot of the events we have here in South Bend are more for awareness than trying to raise a lot of money. We have a golf outing every summer, but here in South Bend…we just kind of work on raising awareness and letting people know that Hannah and Friends is still around,” Parsons said.

Contact Alex Winegar at awineg01@saintmarys.edu.