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Book Review: The Power of Knowing Each Other – Stories about informal safeguards told by BC families

June 1, 2011

The Power of Knowing Each Other: Stories about informal safeguards told by BC families is a joint venture by Community Living British Columbia, the Family Support Institute and the government of B.C..   It is a dozen, easy to read stories but within these are contained the stories of those who have been part of these lives and families.   Reading it feels rather like coming home.   As a book it nicely begins to fill a gap that parents often talk about, in that while we discuss and theorise about natural safeguards for adults with disabilities there’s not much written information for ordinary families.

Editor and story-collector Maria Glaze, herself a parent, has done a nice job of interviewing families and individuals by first of all mixing it up and representing as much of the province as one could reasonably expect (travel a bit up north and you’ll quickly hear how important this is to those who don’t live in greater Vancouver) and also by creating a representative sampling of folks who are younger, older, living on their own, or with families or caregivers, independent or needing more support.    These are folks at various points in their lives who, in various ways, have connected to their families, friends, neighbours and communities through work, volunteering, shared interests and by finding ways to share their gifts – expanding, solidifying and deepening their networks of support.   As a parent and educator I love the practicality of this book.

While each story is wonderful in this brief readable book, and I hate to select any particular one as it leaves out others, I know Aimee Quaife (Morry) just a bit and have heard about her son Dallen so was glad to find them represented here.   And what a clear story of connection and contribution, of setting things up and getting out of the way and letting Dallen’s peers figure things out, on Facebook and in their classrooms, facilitated by peers and by dedicated teachers out of a common investment in community.   Compare the story of Dallen’s participation in his friends’ prom to the usual professional directiveness: “When the boys came over dressed in their suits, they asked Aimee why Dallen wasn’t in a suit.   Aimee confessed that Dallen didn’t own as suit and could feel a little judgement when they asked, ‘Dallen doesn’t own a suit?’   One boy went home and returned with an extra suit for Dallen.  Some friends went with Dallen into his room and he emerged looking as handsome as the rest.   The group . . . gathered for photos and girls kept calling out, ‘Hey, Dallen!   You look hot.’  Many wanted their picture taken with Dallen who was grinning from ear to ear.”  Aimee didn’t need to be perfect and uncorrectable, she needed people Dallen’s age to take charge, and they did.  Embedded in the story, however, are the things that went wrong, like the over-protective educational assistant and how much power those folks have in our lives when they often come with very different ideas and a lack of the bigger picture we might have for our kids, and the things that made it happen – finding a champion, letting go, making a place where people Dallen’s age could congregate and be there for him and each other.   Like all of the stories in this little book, his story is singular – not only is there is no cookie cutter approach,  there’s no interest in cookie cutters, and there are lots and lots of good ideas.   The approaches are as various as the gifts and challenges of each individual.

The voices in this book ring true – I like how self-advocates speak for themselves, and I loved “Marianne’s Story,” told with assistance as she “gives her approval by smiling, nodding her head and expressing her ‘um’ sound”: “My parents were ageing and…  I knew I needed to be prepared.”   Marianne tells us about using “clapping hands” (plastic hands that clap when you swing them one-handed) so she can be part of singing a favourite song at church.   Individuals, families and friends tell their stories in the spirit that FSI has always sought – lived experiences shared to assist others.

The book has a number  of photographs, many of them  like small squares collaged together into a kind of  warming quilt.   Maria’s introduction talks a bit about the process she used, and is followed by a short essay by Cathy Anthony which puts all of the stories into perspective as she gives an overview of learning multiple roles “on the job” as a parent, facilitator, advocate, supporter and story-collector.    The book ends with David Hingsburger’s “Epilogue: The Tea in Safety, Informal Safeguards Within Community Living,” in which he talks about what was then the “radical” work of early parents who kept their children home and refused to have them segregated.   Those parents did all the things that ordinary parents do – they took their kids shopping, went to “burger joints,” and movies.   “Little did they know at the time that every time they ventured out,” Hingsburger writes, “the world became safer for their children.   As clerks got to know their kids, as bus drivers began to greet them by name, as lollipop guards waved in recognition, the world changed.   No longer a stranger in a strange land, kids with disabilities become something that parents only dreamed of, they became attached to their names…  they became Darlene and Desmond, Chanelle and Charlie, Jamail and Jennifer.   This meant that kids with disabilities had allies in the community, they had eyes noticing them, greeting them and watching them.   No longer anonymous easy victims, they were now people knit into the fabric of a community.   Valued people make poor victims.”

Around  the province, writers from the book are hosting book launch events in their communities on Friday, June 17.   If you are in the greater Vancouver area, drop in from 2:30pm – 4:30pm at the New West Quay Hotel Hyack North Room, 900 Quayside Drive in New Westminster, BC and celebrate The Power of Knowing Each Other.   

For more information about getting copies of the book, or to find out about related events in your area, contact Shirley Yashimata-Patison at spaterson@fsibc.com

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Annette Pope permalink
    June 4, 2011 2:01 am

    We went to have Botox shots in Marianne’s neck for Dystonia at UBC
    Her Doctor was so thrilled to have a copy of her book that he hugged it to him
    and said this is for me Marianne? Not once but twice and he hadnt even read it yet.

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