Exploring Southeast neighborhoods breaks isolation

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff Kerry Pinney and Daniel VanderMolen (standing) introduce Jace Sakamoto (in the wheelchair) to Jill’s Hallmark Shop, a featured business of the United Cerebral Palsy’s program “Neighborhood Waves” in the Woodstock neighborhood.

Living with a disability, as plenty in Inner Southeast Portland do, can be an isolating experience. A new program of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) provides one way to break through the social isolation that comes with having a disability such as cerebral palsy.

A year ago Kerry Pinney, a Woodstock resident and Development Coordinator for UCP, was meeting with colleagues at the UCP office near the airport. They began to discuss ways that UCP participants could reduce their isolation, and get out into the community.

How could people with developmental disabilities explore different neighborhoods, and connect with businesses? Slowly the idea for a program evolved. The program would be called 'Neighborhood Waves' - the name implying friendliness between businesses and people with disabilities.

The benefits of Neighborhood Waves were designed to be two-way: People with disabilities would gain a sense of independence and greater confidence by meeting people and learning more about different communities; businesses and neighbors could gain greater understanding of people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities by interacting with them.

'We are rolling it out in Woodstock in May,' says Pinney, referring to the neighborhood activity. 'During the month of June we will be visiting Sellwood and Westmoreland.'

As preparation for Neighborhood Waves rolling out in Woodstock, Pinney visited businesses and told them about the program. She gave business owners or managers some information about United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and SW Washington, and offered them some ways to become involved with UCP.

Options for involvement include: Welcoming customers with disabilities, and becoming a 'featured business'; exploring the possibility of hiring an employee with a disability by connecting with UCP's Employment Solutions Department; volunteering time or making a donation to help support UCP programs.

Eight businesses gave their support by offering a coupon or discount for UCP customers who will visit the neighborhood. In return, UCP will be promoting those businesses, as well as the Neighborhood Waves Program, on the UCP website and in social media.

A core belief of UCP described on a 'Neighborhood Waves' flier is: 'Our communities live and thrive on diversity and, a healthy community is one that has a place for all its residents.'

Jace Sakamoto, a 24-year-old who takes part in the 'Choices' Program - a UCP community inclusion program - is testament to this belief. He thrives on community involvement.

On a recent but rare sunny May day, Jace visited Woodstock with his support person, Daniel VanderMolen, who is a coordinator in the UCP Choices program. Accompanied by VanderMolen, and UCP development coordinator Pinney, Jace visited businesses and ate lunch at Subway Sandwich next to the Safeway store, before boarding a TriMet Lift bus back to his home.

UCP support has been crucial for Jace's development. For three years he has been paired with VanderMolen, who, with help of UCP support staff, assists Jace five days a week to develop life skills, connect with people through e-mail and Facebook, and become more involved in the community.

One opportunity VanderMolen arranged for Jace was volunteering at Free Geek. Over a period of weeks, Jace worked a total of 24 hours, disassembling computers and pulling apart power cords in exchange for the privilege of taking home a free computer.

Reminiscing about Jace's introduction to UCP, VanderMolen says, 'The first day Jace visited us, the battery died in his electric wheelchair. It was a 95-degree day in July, and I ended up pushing him around all over the neighborhood. We have been good friends ever since.'

To learn more about UCP or the Neighborhood Waves Program go online to: www.acommunityforeveryone.org , or call Kerry Pinney at 503/777-4166, extension 261.