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Notions of Being Disabled

We had a great Community Cinema last night at a new venue--Roosevelt Thompson Library in Little Rock. We screened "For Once in My Life," a documentary about the Spirit of Goodwill Band, a group of invididuals with physical and developmental disabilities in Miami. "For Once in My Life" follows these individuals as they prepare to perform in front of thousands of people as part of the 2008 U.S. Mayor's Convention.

Even if you don't know someone with a physical or mental disability, this film is amazing. The stories these people share are both heartbreaking and inspiring, and help prove that great things can happen no matter your circumstance.

Perhaps one of the best things about the people interviewed in the film is their outlook on life. We, as "normal, healthy" human beings, often only see the negative side of a disability. But these folks--many with severe disabilities--are some of the happiest, friendliest, most carefree people you may ever meet. 

We had two panelists for the discussion: Brian Itzkowitz, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Arkansas; and Jodie McGinley from Community Connections.

If you are like me, you probably never realized all the work Goodwill Industries does. Goodwill is much, much more than just a place to drop off clothes when you clean your closets. In fact, Goodwill's main mission is to assist and connect those with disabilities to their communities and ultimately, gainful employment. 48 percent of disabled people in Arkansas are unemployed. And it's not because these people can't work--because they have many talents that are needed in the workforce. As Mr. Itzkowitz pointed out, it's hard to find a job these days with a Master's degree, let alone if you have a disability. 

So why is it important disabled individuals find jobs? Because they're just like you and me: they need a job to provide a quality of life that they want and most importantly, to give them a sense of purpose. Goodwill Industries helps disabled individuals assess theirstrengths and skills so that one day they may become self-sufficient. As one of the disabled men in the film said, "I would like to one day be independent and get married," reaffirming that these people have the same hopes and dreams as you and I with just a few more speed bumps along the way.

Community Connections, a local non-profit group in Conway, provides support to disabled children in a variety of ways. Community Connections provides self-esteem building activities, gives parents and family members educational opportunities to learn about their children's disabilities and help empower children and families with information to help increase the quality of life and developmental potential of children. Jodie, who has an extremely poweful story to tell (I would explain a little but there's no way I could do it justice) spoke about "Project Eli" after the screening and I encourage anyone with a disabled child to check out the film. 

So what all this is trying to say is watch the film. Get inspired. Learn how you can help disabled invdividuals in your community. Volunteer opportunities abound. 

For more information about Goodwill Industries of Arkansas visit goodwillar.org; communityconnectionsar.org

"For Once in My Life" airs Wednesday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. on AETN-3 and Sunday, Feb. 6, at 11 p.m. on AETN-1.

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