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  • Writer's pictureTogether for Choice

The Meaning of Community

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter, in support of Pathfinder Village in Edmeston, New York, is written as support for the Village, its residents and the staff, who each bring their own style of caring and support to the Village.

My experience with Pathfinder Village goes back many years, long before I was an actively involved member of their community. I had a vested interest in Pathfinder as my brother had Down Syndrome and I had trained as a Special Educator and had worked teaching in residential facilities in Connecticut before moving to New York. I was curious about this place in rural NY and what it had to offer. What was life like there for the residents? This was 40 years ago and the world for individuals with special needs and developmental disabilities was changing. Inclusion became the new norm. Large sterile residential facilities were closed. Smaller, more regional facilities were developed in neighborhoods where residents were integrated into the surrounding communities, socially, educationally and residentially. These transitions were not always easy and communities were not always welcoming.

So how did this small, upstate New York area progress in integrating residents into community programs and life from this residential community? For the last 40 years I witnessed many of the internal and policy changes that were instituted at Pathfinder Village to address the commitment that was made for community inclusion and the broadening of experience for residents and community members as well. The world changed for those with Developmental Disabilities and Pathfinder met those changes and advanced their available programs and services to bring their residents into the community and the community into Pathfinder Village, expanding life experiences for both.

Surely Pathfinder Village creates a lovely country residential setting. However it is more than that. It is a diverse community offering the choice and opportunity for everyone who is there, staff and residents, to be the best that they can be. To define community is important. It is not a place, a building or an organization. Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety and caring for each other. It's a sense of belonging that springs from feeling that other people accept you despite, not because of, who you are. That treasured feeling of community comes from a shared experience and a sense of shared history. All people participate in multiple communities within a given day; Pathfinder Village residents are no different. Residents of Pathfinder Village travel beyond the boundaries of their residential community daily: visiting, socializing, and working. They travel to other communities, representing their home community, to participate in athletics, social, dramatic and work related activities with the support and guidance of PathfinderVillage. In doing so they extend the physical boundaries of their own neighborhoods.

The meaning of community requires thoughtfulness and deliberation. Policy makers must accept the complexity of community, including the impact communities have on well-being and health, as they strive to create change. For those who call Pathfinder Village home and for those who work within its the boundaries, there is a renewed sense of commitment to bringing neighbors and neighborhoods together. Whether it is the Pathfinder Produce Market or a rocking summer concert at the Pavilion, there is a sense of community and inclusion. The residents are proud of their homes and accomplishments. They are proud to be part of their community and all of the surrounding communities that they are involved with. Pathfinder Village residents bring a message wherever they go, (and they go everywhere!): that each of them has a value, a life and skills worth sharing, no matter where they are.

Back to my story. My brother, Richard, lived at home for 50 years within the care of our family. The onset of psychotic dementia required us to seek a safe environment for his continued care that would be the most like his home environment. His health required continued supervised and assisted care as his disease progressed. We turned to Pathfinder and received years of support and care, not only for him but for our entire family as well. Visits were always welcome, no advance notice needed. Relationships with other members of "his" house, staff and the entire community were forged. Bonds that extended past his eventual death and will always be cherished and remembered. Richard's memorial service was held at Pathfinder Chapel. In attendance a full chapel of family, friends and residents celebrating a life lived within this exceptional, caring community. Richard always felt that he had two families: his birth family and his Pathfinder family. Both were equally important and dedicated to him forever.

The supportive atmosphere at Pathfinder Village allows for all who come there to find the best there is for themselves. The message of Pathfinder "that each life may find meaning" holds true for all.

Margaret Savoie Cooperstown, New York, February 2020

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