Upcounty Community Resources, in partnership with St. Rose of Lima Parish and the Asbury Methodist Village of Gaithersburg celebrated the Heroes Among Us Interfaith Celebration of All Abilities, to recognize the 25th anniversary of the American's with Disabilities Act.
The uplifting and emotional ceremony included inspirational speeches about the heroes in our lives and how much promise each and every one of us hold. A talented member of the St. Rose Deaf community, Wendy Cheng, founder of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, entertained the crowd of 75 people with beautiful prelude music as friends were being seated. Dancers from the Natraj School of Indian Dance performed a song to open the ceremony. Daya Ravi explained how the phrase from the song, "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" means the entire world is but one single family and taught the crowd some sign language which was included in the Indian dances.
Meghan Parker, the mother of a child with Epilepsy read an excerpt from the original ADA document signed 25 years ago by President George H.W. Bush. Reflections were offered by Nicolette Stearns and Adrian Forsythe both from ArtStream. Jack Berman, Temple Beth Ami, is high school student and caring brother to Emilie who has Autism. He started the tears flowing with a moving speech about how his sister is his hero and makes him appreciate life in a deeper more meaningful way.
Venkat Rajagopal, an adult succeeding with Autism, sang Blessed Be Your Name while being accompanied by the UCR Adult Chime Choir and Donny Toker, an adult succeeding with Autism, on piano. Jake Edwards followed that presentation with a speech about how he loves his Autism and God created all of us to be exactly how we are for special purposes on Earth.
Deacon Dan Finn, Chairman of UCR, directed a Belonging Ceremony where members of the Jewish, Hindu, Unitarian and Christian Communities all combined water into a large vase to signify wholeness and belonging. "The core of our existence is water. We all come from water, our bodies are mostly water, and water gives us life. Water is the very essence of equality, no one drop is more important than another."
A short music meditation included Peace is Flowing Like a River followed by the keynote address written by Debbie Sahlin, Founder of Lollipop Kids Foundation and mother of a child with special needs.
My Journey to Finding MY HERO!
To illustrate how I found the true meaning of a hero, I am compelled to give you a small piece of my personal journey.
When I was a young child, I thought my family life was somewhat happy. My parents made sure I had everything I needed. However, my childhood home lacked nurturing and love.
I spent most of my time growing up with two little girls that lived next door to me. They went to church every week and Vacation Bible School every summer. They always talked about how much fun they had there. I noticed a difference in their family – they were happy. I wanted that for my family.
One summer, when I was five, my friends invited me to go to Vacation Bible School with them. I really wanted to go. I asked my father if I could join them and he let me go.
Before I left, I decided to ask my dad about the existence of God.
“Is there really a God?” I asked optimistically. To me, it seemed to be a very simple question for a five year old.
“There is no God.” He replied not even bothering to look up from the book he was reading.
My mind drifted to my friends and their family for a moment. I sensed something different in them and the interactions I witnessed in their home. What was the difference? They went to church and talked about God often. Could God possibly exist and He is the difference? I was desperate to find out.
“When you go to church tonight, ask the preacher, ‘If there really is a God, then why are there handicapped people?’ ” My father added almost tauntingly.
I knew I needed to find out for myself.
That night at VBS, after all the activities, there was a drawing for a big, yellow lollipop.
I prayed my first prayer: “God, if you are real, let me win that lollipop so I know the truth”.
I clutched my ticket so tightly as the numbers were read.
As I walked up to collect my prize, I felt a burning sensation all over my body. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. My black patent leather shoes clicked as I slowly put one foot in front of the other. The burning sensation I was feeling gradually turned into an unbelievable calm. I felt so peaceful and a lightness rushed over me. I was absolutely certain there was a God and that He was walking right beside me. Although I couldn’t see him, I was nearly suffocated by His presence.
For the first time in my life, I felt hopeful.
I decided to save my lollipop forever. But, with many well intended plans, the significance of the lollipop faded as my family life worsened.
I lived my life for the next few decades in a manner not pleasing to God.
Fast forward 20 or so years, I received the most devastating phone call about my 11 month old baby boy.
His father wasn’t paying close enough attention to him and he accidently struck him in the head while swinging a golf club. My son, Ryan, was medivaced to Children’s National Medical Center with no hope of surviving.
My childhood friends met me at the hospital (the same ones with me at VBS) and one hugged and comforted me as any good friend would. But, my other friend wasn’t so comforting.
She grabbed my shirt collar and looked me right in the eyes and said “I was there when you gave your life to God, he’s saying WHERE ARE YOU?
I wanted to be mad at her, but in the depth of my being, I knew she was right.
That night I prayed for the first time since VBS. My prayer was simple.
“God, please let me my baby be ok”. I repeated this over and over.
I felt a stirring in my soul which left a question hovering over me, “What is your definition of ok?”
My definition of OK was my son being exactly the way he was before he got hurt --- that he remained “normal”.
I immediately sensed as answer to my prayer. God answered me with NO.
I didn’t understand the NO at the time but now, from what I’ve learned, I wouldn’t changed His answer for for anything in the world. My journey with my son has allowed me to formulate an answer to the question my father posed so many years ago.
To my father I answer “ God is SO GOOD because he allows people living with disabilities to enter our world.” Through these people He has given us the greatest gift – teachers.
People living with disabilites, like my son, exhibit a pure spirit. They bear fruit – love, patience, kindness, gentleness, JOY, generosity, modesty and self- control.
Let me leave you with a question: Isn’t this what we are called to do?
The heroes among us are people living with disabilities. I thank each of them for teaching me things I didn’t even know I needed to know.
Founder & Executive Director
Lollipop Kids Foundation
After all the tears were dried, Deacon Dan read Reverend Wilke's Blessing from the ADA ceremony on July 26th 1990. The UCR Adult Chime Choir closed the day by signing What a Wonderful World and chiming Lean On Me with Donny Toker on the piano and vocals.
Enjoy pictures below from the ceremony, our adults are such a blessing!