To The Editor:
As seniors at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, we have participated in the Christian Action Program, one that focuses on community outreach. We have focused our service efforts this past year at The Homestead Group (formerly The Arc of Northern Rhode Island), a human service agency that provides services for people with developmental disabilities. We visit the facility on a weekly basis, and during our time we have each grown deeply fond of the relationships we have formed with the people there.
While the Homestead and many other similar facilities are wonderful places for the handicapped of our state, we have reason to be concerned that what is being done for the disabled is not enough. We fear that both the handicapped and the rest of society are being deprived because these people are continually isolated from society. They are undoubtedly welcomed, challenged, and nurtured at the Homestead, and we have seen their gifts and talents. However, we have wondered if it is enough that these gifts and talents stay to be shared only within the Homestead. We recently asked a classroom full of our peers to raise their hand if they had never come in direct contact with a mentally challenged person, and the number that went up was startling.
Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics International has said that "America at its best upholds the value of every person and the possibilities of every life. The story of this country is an ever-widening circle, a society in which everyone has a place and everyone has something to give."
Unfortunately, the handicapped of our society live under a negative stigma that labels them as "different" and outcasts them from living "normal" lives in today's world. With so few options for them in a very fast-paced world,they are forgotten about and thrown into the confines of these day [care] or residential services. We have come to see that, while they are faced with challenges you or I may not be, they are no different. They are people first and foremost. Do they not deserve the same respect and opportunities that we expect?
What is more alarming is the threat of a cut for the already too-small budget for the state's handicapped. Governor Donald Carcieri has already and will again propose a cut of $2.7 million in state funding to group homes and other centers that help the developmentally disabled in the current fiscal year. These cuts cannot happen if these centers are expected to succeed in helping the mentally handicapped to intergrate and become members of society who function with maximum potential.
What can we do? As a Rhode Island community, we owe it to the disabled to lend our support for their right to participate in our society. For, is it not said the success of a society is measured in the way it treats the most vulnerable of its members? We ask that an effort be made not only to prevent further financial cuts for the mentally handicapped, but also to show compassion and welcome to all those who are seemingly "different."
Class of 2008
Mt. St. Charles Academy