September 14, 2010

A special family visit

Paul with Adam, Art, Cindi and Placido Swanson
We were thrilled when the Swanson family from Naperville made a stop in Montreal on their road trip around most of the Great Lakes and through Canada. It was very unfortunate that I (Kish) had to make a last-minute trip out of town and didn't get the chance to break bread with this amazing family. Thankfully, Danielle is quite good in the kitchen and Paul's favorite Italian market was open on Labour Day (most big stores were closed) and they put together a nice lunch. They even cleaned the house which I kept saying was not necessary. That's because, well, the guys don't care and my friend blind. She wouldn't know or care if there was enough dog hair in the corners to stuff a pillow. Plus, her assistance dog Placido was coming too and we could always blame yellow dog hair on him. Just so long as the bathrooms were clean. And they were, I'm told. 

I met Cindi at our church in Naperville. She was, and is, the special needs coordinator at our previous parish. She was doing this job long before one jerk (hint--Beck) started mouthing off suggesting we run from our churches if we hear the words Social Justice. She's also a social worker, mom or three -- her middle son with Down Syndrome -- and as mentioned earlier, she is blind. She does not let her disability stand in her way and she represents all that is good about Social Justice and the whole concept of WWJD? She and Art paved the way in Naperville and Illinois for the Pisani family...and hundreds of others but advocating in church, school and the community.

Cindi met with me many times to find the right words to use in IEP meetings to help get Louis the services he was entitled to -- because everyone is entitled to a fair and appropriate education...including those with disabilities. She's also the most passionate advocate I know. I remember driving her home from one meeting (remember, she can't drive) and we were talking about how the Catholic church in general needs to get even more involved in helping those with special needs, and in particular those with intellectual disabilities. She used the words Social Justice before we heard it from that guy, believing that providing services for those with disabilities is the epitome of Social Justice in any community. Out of her mouth came these words..."if a Parish can help support {BEEP} goats in Guatemala, they can help support people with needs in their own community." Disclaimer...she was not referring to our Parish...but 'The Church' in general.

The Swanson's are HUGE hockey fans too. We had fun exchanging news throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. Art knows more about the Canadiens than the Canadians. Seriously. This family has also been a big part of a special program in Chicago called the Tomahawks. They helped start a garden/nursery that employs people with disabilities called We Grow Dreams. They even moved to downtown Naperville to ensure that their son Adam can walk to work and to make sure that people in the community know Adam and look out for him. Remember, Cindi can't drive, so making sure everything is walk-able is a necessity, not a luxury. There are some days when I want to have a solitary pitty party and I think about what if I too had a disability. I never admitted this to Cindi because frankly, she refuses to let anyone feel sorry for her.

Cindi and Art made sure kids like Louis could attend religious ed classes with their peers, participate in sports, be in the same class with their peers, get jobs in the community and more. We've learned a lot about our future from this family. More than anything though, we've learned about the present. 

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