One of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve had over the last three years was meeting Rachelle Vartanian and getting to know the wonderful team working at the Living and Learning Enrichment Center. At this center, they are helping people with disabilities and their families find the support and friendship they need to have a better life. It takes a special person to have the vision and passion to turn a 12-acre campus into a home for families seeking programs to help their children with disabilities find purpose and activities to improve their lives.
Jean and I recently attended the Hopes and Dreams Gala on the campus of the LLEC in Northville, Michigan. It was a great event that provided an opportunity to explore the entire property and meet many wonderful staff members along with donors and volunteers that made the evening a huge success. We were thrilled to be sponsors of the event and look forward to more exciting opportunities to support the important work and vision conducted daily by Rachelle and her dedicated team as they strive to become a national model for other organizations with similar dreams.
I asked Rachelle if she would allow me to offer her comments she delivered so beautifully welcoming guests to the gala last Friday. If her words or mission touches you please check out the wonderful programs and story of the LLEC and what they are building that is truly changing lives for the better.
Thank you for the kind introduction.
I am honored to stand before you today. As the founder and president of Living and Learning, I would like to emphasize one thing above all else: the work we are doing is imperative.
Before Living and Learning some of our members sat at home doing nothing for decades. I embarked on this mission not out of choice, but of necessity. The simple truth is, if we don't step up now, individuals with disabilities
will not have the dignity, meaning, and purpose they deserve.
I remember the day of our first program in October of 2015. It was a weekend hangout with four members that attended that, and one of them was my son. Eight years later we have over 30 programs, and our family has grown to include individuals from 72 cities and 9 different counties.
Several years ago I had a conversation with a father of a young man who was in college and he suspected that his son was on the autism spectrum. I will never forget this conversation. He told me that his son’s life had been a series of hardships, compounded by immense loneliness. One day when he was driving in the car with his son he looked over at his dad and asked, “Dad, can a person die of loneliness?" I can't imagine what he must have felt in that moment because Living and Learning didn’t exist for them.
Then, as he was leaving his first weekend hangout, he was overheard saying, “Dad, I never knew a place like this could exist.”
His son continued to attend our weekend hangouts and eventually he met a girl there. And every once in a while I see his son and his girlfriend walking hand in hand down Main Street. He is a different person now. My hope and dream is that no one will die of lonliness.
The reality for parents of children with special needs is a relentless onslaught of challenges: endless doctor appointments, misunderstood emotions, and the isolation that comes from feeling that no one else can truly understand what we’re going through. It is non-stop, every day the worry we have for our children. Every person who has a child with a special need goes to bed thinking the same thing… WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY CHILD WHEN I DIE?
Some of our families are blessed to have a support system. When my son was young I didn’t. Every day I thought to myself, if I die who is going to help him? There are many families who are living the same life I did.
They have no one.
We provide excellent services, social support and job skills. But we still have a long way to go.
My goal is to have every single one of you help us provide the support they need to live a life outside of their families home.
When we’re able to do this ….. parents will no longer have to worry about what will happen to their child when they die.
Because LIVING AND LEARNING WILL BE HERE TO PROVIDE THAT SUPPORT.
The purpose of tonight …..is for you to support us so we can support our families.
I thank all of you for being here tonight.
Please check out a few pictures from the event including Rachelle Vartanian, Janette Phillips, Marcy Klevorn, an alpaca named Steed, and the wonderful LLEC campus.
Have a great summer,
Roger N. Steed