Who defines a meaningful connection? Most adults get to decide on their own what makes them feel a sense of belonging but for some adults with a developmental disability, it’s not so simple. St.Amant is working on an innovative new way to approach how those they support become a part of their community, form friendships and discover new hobbies.
Andrew Terhoch, a Spiritual Care Practitioner at St.Amant, has been involved in exploring this approach by participating in training being offered by Starfire, an organization out of the United States that has put in a lot of work towards creating empowering opportunities for those they support.
“A big part of the work that front-line staff do with the people we support is to give them an opportunity to explore who they are,” explains Terhoch. “We’re putting a lot of emphasis on questions like: What are my passions? My interests? My values?”
The important shift at St.Amant is asking a big question that will lead to meaningful connections for those they support: “What does my community need?”
Terhoch continues, “This isn’t about who someone is as a person with a disability, but about who they are as a member of their community. They want to know what they can contribute. It’s a leadership opportunity for them and it’s about creating a place where they belong and opening the space for others to come and join them.”
The Starfire training espouses that flipping the script from trying to protect someone with a developmental disability to trying to broaden their experience will result in a more fulfilling life and more genuine friendships and relationships built on common interest, not interactions with paid staff or volunteers.
“Our main goal is to create a situation where support staff isn’t the main driver behind these meaningful connections,” continues Terhoch. “If someone we support said they wanted to be an astronaut, for example, we might start to try to protect them from disappointment by explaining that it’s a really big goal and it might be out of reach. We’d explain that they need an education and a lot of training…but what if instead, we asked, ‘What is it that you love about being an astronaut?’ That’s where we start to explore.”
The training being offered through Starfire to a select number of St.Amant leaders and front-line staff is helping reframe how someone with a developmental disability approaches the world.
“This isn’t about success or failure, it’s about exploring passions,” says Terhoch. “Who knows where that path will take someone? We’re not focusing on the destination, but more on how this person can make this journey for themselves. It means thinking about how we navigate challenges and disappointments as well as successes. As staff, it means thinking about how we navigate vulnerability together.”
The Starfire training, made possible by an Inspiration Grant provided by Réseau Compassion Network, is forging a new way forward for the people supported at St.Amant. “It’s about focusing on the adventure of living life and not the destination. We all want to feel the joys and the sorrows and find a place where we truly belong,” concludes Terhoch.