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Friday, June 29, 2012

I Heart Rogue Valley

I’ve been learning a lot lately about what it means to be a part of a community—mostly that I’ve been taking it for granted.  I tend to be a bit introverted, myself, but it’s by choice—I tend to enjoy seclusion.   If I choose to, I can make an effort to connect with people around me.  I can attend community functions.  I can choose to make eye contact with neighbors, and say a friendly “hello”.  Being more cognizant of those within our community who experience disability, I realize not everyone is secluded by choice.  For many, they don’t feel welcomed or comfortable out in the community; it may be difficult to get out due to mobility issues; they may have trouble relating to others.  Whatever the reason, not everyone feels “included” in their community.

I am very excited to be a part of a community building event taking place on July 28th in the Rogue Valley.  I Heart Rogue Valley is a faith based effort whose goal is to initiate lasting change in communities through volunteer service projects and dynamic live events.  The Heart Campaign has been around since 2008 and the transformation that takes place in a community after one of their events is something to behold.  I was fortunate to be a part of I Heart Ashland last November, where over 500 volunteers came out and served within the city of Ashland, touching lives and showing that LOVE IS ACTION!

This year, the Heart Campaign is taking over the whole Rogue Valley.  There are over 50 service projects with over 2,000 volunteer opportunities (we’re hoping to get up to 3,000 by the event date) in Ashland, Central Point, Medford, Phoenix, Prospect, Talent and White City.  While I have been deeply touched by being the recipient of volunteer service in the past—nothing compares to the feeling of serving others.  There is nothing that can make an individual feel more like an included and valued member of their community, than when they are giving of themselves to make that community better.

After last November’s Ashland event, one thing that really
stood out for me was a large number of seniors who said they wanted to serve, were excited about the event, but found nothing they felt comfortable doing, since most of the projects involved physical labor beyond their abilities.  In addition, I know a number of families in our communities with a member that experiences a disability.  Likewise, they may want to serve, they may have a desire to be a part of a great community building event like this but not be able to participate due to mobility issues, health issues, etc.  I did not want to see a community building event—especially the magnitude of this one—leave out anyone who wants to serve and find a valued place within their community.

I am so excited to announce that as part of those 50+ plus projects, there is a 100% accessible project, welcoming people of any ability to participate and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate within our community, those without a home to call their own.  The accessible project is called “Medford – Care Package Project” and you can volunteer for it on the I Heart website:, along with any of the other projects.  

The Care Package project will involve creating brown bags filled with edible goods and other necessities, which can be handed out to homeless persons in our community.  Anyone can be involved in this project!  Families can serve together.  People struggling with feelings that they may not have much to offer—let me tell you that you DO—you can help provide food and show love to someone who has nothing.  You are a valued member of your community and you can feel like it by giving back to your community, working alongside others, being a part of something bigger than yourself.

I would encourage anyone reading this blog post, if you are going to be in the Rogue Valley on July 28th, sign up for a project.  Grab some friends and sign up together.  Take your whole family and volunteer together.  There’s a project for you, whether you’re concerned about accessibility or not—there’s a project for you and you can make a difference in your community.

After the day of service there will be a fantastic free concert and talk given by world renowned speaker, Nick Vujicic at the Lithia Motors Amphitheater in Central Point.  There’s a lot more I can say about Nick and his message, but I will save that for another post.  You can find out more about him if you just can’t wait by visiting

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Six Months of Transformation Described in Five Minutes or Less

Graduating Partners in Policymaking Class of 2012

Well, it’s all done!  Six months of classes in Salem, countless hours of reading, stepping outside my comfort zone to interview leaders in the community, and time spent on examining my own assumptions and beliefs on disability.  Saturday I graduated from Partners in Policymaking, a challenging leadership and advocacy course that was sponsored and administered by the Arc of Oregon and Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities.  I am a very different person than I was six months ago—for the better! 

Prior to the graduation ceremony, each of us in the class were required to put our practiced public speaking skills into action and give a speech, no longer than five minutes in length, that encapsulated our experiences in PIP, as well as what we would be doing in the future with our new skills.  What a challenge!  How do I sum up a life-changing experience that so profoundly affected my family, myself and as a result, my community into just five minutes?   I could talk for an hour about what PIP has meant to me.  Well, it took me until 12:30 AM the day of my speech to finally cram it all together into a condensed version and here’s what I came up with:

The four of us from Southern Oregon
My name is Heather Molzer and I'm from Medford. I heard about Partners in Policymaking about three days before the application deadline and a scrambled to get all the required information together to apply.  It sounded like an incredible program and I was struggling, as a fairly new full-time homemaker with how I could be a better mother to my sons.  I knew I was missing some vital piece of the puzzle when it came to advocating for my children, but I had no idea what that piece even looked like.

When I got my acceptance letter and the first session material, I was very excited.  I was challenged with the reading material and before even attending the first session I wondered if this program was actually going to be a good fit for me.  That first session went beyond breaking down barriers and assumptions. I remember calling my husband at each break and just sobbing into the phone.  I remember coming home from that weekend, trying to disseminate the information I had absorbed to my husband but mostly succeeding in more sobbing.

After a few days when I could a hold a short conversation concerning disability without turning into a blubbering cry-baby, I sat down with my son, Cainan.  As we prepared for him to transition into a new self-contained, 3rd - 6th grade blended class at a school even further away than the one he was currently attending, I asked him if it was what he wanted.  I asked him if he wanted to be in a class like he had been, with kids in 3rd through 6th grade, who have disabilities or if he would like to be in a regular class with kids his age who do not have disabilities.  To my surprise, within moments he had a definitive answer and it was to be in a regular class with kids his age.  Further, he wanted to go to the same school as his younger brother, our neighborhood school.

Thus began my journey into the world of Partners in Policymaking and affective advocacy for my son.  That piece I had been was understanding that Cainan's disability didn't define him, that he had more in common with typical kids than he had differences and that he deserved to be a part of a community that accepted him as a whole person.  And that was just what I got from the first weekend!

I have to thank my husband, who has been a tremendous supporter of this process; who has done his best to listen through the tears after each session about all of the amazing information I learned; who has encouraged me, helped me brainstorm, presented a united front with me through IEPs and Placement meetings.  I also have to thank my mother and my in-laws who have given up one of their weekends each month to watch our boys, as well as multiple hours as I toured sheltered workshops, met with community leaders or legislators and completed tasks inspired or assigned by Partners in Policymaking.  I couldn't have completed this journey without their support.

Let me end by saying not only will Cainan be attending our neighborhood school next year with his brother, in a general education setting with the supports necessary for him to be successful, but my perspective on community building and acceptance for those who experience a disability has so radically changed that I have grown far beyond just advocating for my own children.  This summer, I am involved in the organization of a huge volunteer based community service event that will be taking place.  While numerous projects will be serving all aspects of the communities in the Rogue Valley, most require the ability to complete manual labor, outdoors, in the middle of July.  I wanted to have an opportunity available as part of this event that is completely accessible, so that people of any ability can come together as valuable members of their community and serve in an integral way.  A project like this wouldn't have occurred to me six months ago.  Six months ago, I would have argued with anyone that said Cainan belonged anywhere besides a safe, segregated classroom.  Six months ago I was trying to put together a puzzle that didn't have all the pieces.  I am so grateful that PIP gave me the pieces to create a stunning picture I had never even imagined.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A is for Advocate

Advocate – (noun) a person who pleads for or on behalf of another; intercessor.

I’ve been learning a lot about advocacy in the past few months.  I guess I’ve always been an advocate for my kids (as most parents are) though I would not have called it that.  But in the past few months I’ve learned how to be a better advocate.  I’ve learned how important it is to consider their own wants and needs in addition to what I know is good for them.  I’ve learned how to balance my love and personal desires for them with their hopes and dreams, to morph those into tangible goals that I can promote.  I’ve also seen myself transforming into an advocate for those outside my family, into the more general sphere of issues that affect people with disabilities and their families.  It’s been a life-changing transformation for all of us in my family.

Now I am taking all the great advocacy tools I’ve learned: person centered planning, identifying strengths, creative strategies and problem solving, negotiating skills, networking and relationship building skills…the list goes on, and I’m passing them on to my kids.  I’ve found that as passionate and successful as I am in advocating for my sons, nothing will be better than imparting these skills to them so that they can successfully advocate for themselves and eventually others.  It’s been exciting to see the growth in my own advocacy skills but exhilarating to see my boys’ emerging skills evolve.

Cainan and Asher are 6 and 8 so, I’ve started out pretty simply with defining “Advocate” and beginning the dialogue on how we can stand up for what is best for someone or what is best for ourselves.  We’ve been having great conversations lately about their gifts and what they excel in.  It’s inspiring to watch them light up as I tell them what attribute I see them excelling in; we discuss how they can use that for their benefit or the benefit of others and how it might help in an area where they are not as strong. 

Lately, Cainan and I have been talking about how to explain his differences and disability to others.  Next school year, he will be attending a regular class in our neighborhood school—something that’s new for him.  And while I have every confidence he can be successful in this setting, I know things are going to come up as kids wonder why he is considerably different from them in some areas.  So, I’ve been helping him identify areas he thinks he’s not like “most people”.  We talk about why that’s not bad, just different and we’re talking about how we can explain that to anyone who wants to know about those differences.  We’ve also talked a lot about the ways he’s just like every other eight year old and how he can emphasize the things he has in common with his peers.

As much as I would love to step in and explain for Cainan any time someone asks him an inappropriate question, or implies there’s something wrong with him or treats him as an inferior, I know that I can’t.  I can’t be there all the time and even if I could, it would do him a great disservice to try and fight all his battles for him, leaving him defenseless without me.  Cainan is learning how to stand up for himself.  Because we are focusing on the positive, because we have explained his differences as just that—differences and not inability, because we are working on how to educate others appropriately, Cainan is going to be able to fight his own battles.  I’ve already seen it happening and I’ve wanted to shout with joy!

And I know, as Cainan becomes a more confident person and self-advocate, he will continue to grow into a compassionate person and advocate for others.  In fact, he was just telling me on Friday about a friend being teased in the bathroom by another classmate.  Cainan told me that he stood up to the other classmate and told him to leave his friend alone.  And here I have been worrying about Cainan being bullied but he’s already standing up for others being bullied.  What’s more, he did it appropriately, telling the classmate he was being mean and knew better, to stop teasing and leave the other boy alone.  That apparently took care of the situation but he told me if it hadn’t stopped he would have gotten a teacher.
There are more examples…Cainan expressing his direct wishes to be with kids his own age in a regular class at the same school as his brother during his IEP and then again, at his Placement meeting; watching him tell another child who was trying to boss him around that he knew what he was doing and had the teachers permission to do it; observing him explain to another friend that he has Prader-Willi Syndrome, which means his stomach tricks him and he has to be careful about what food he eats.  He’s getting it and I couldn’t be more excited to see it happening, to be a part of the process and to know that I’m helping equip him with the advocacy tools that will carry him through the rest of his life. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Keeping it Tidy and Teaching a Lesson

Summer is coming and I've been trying my best to get organized for the next few months of busy boys loose in the house all day.  I've been making progress and plans to help keep them occupied.  I've also been working on getting our house in order, purging unneeded items and preparing for a garage sale.  Along the way, I've been scouring Pinterest and Google for ideas on how to accomplish all of the above.

Yesterday, I found a great picture on Pinterest
of a little sign indicating toys that are left where they should not be will be collected by mom and not returned until they are earned back by a chore.  I LOVE this idea!  I'm so tired of repeatedly telling the boys to pick up their stuff, getting them into bed after a long day only to realize the living room is covered in a zillion toys, or tripping over Legos and Hotwheels in the early morning hours.  

However, I couldn't find a link to where this lovely idea was posted.  I even searched Google with the first few lines of the poem, only to be directed back to the Pinterest post.  No worries! I took matters into my own hands and created my own sign, list of chores and a box to collect all of the toys.  Last night at dinner we discussed the creation of this box and brainstormed chores that would be appropriate for both the boys.  As with anything new, it was an exciting novelty and the boys were full of ideas and even picked up all their toys last night before going to bed.

Today, I took the list of chores and created the box.  I was feeling especially crafty so I went all out, printing the chores on cute scrapbook paper and gluing them to large craft sticks.  This is not something I would usually do.  It would be just as easy to write on the craft stick with marker, or just print out slips of paper, like the original pictures shows, and put them in an envelope.  I also covered an empty can in coordinating scrap paper (I know, I was really in the mood!) and glued it, along with the poem, to the font of a box.  I've already collected my first victim, which about brought me to my knees this morning while walking in the dark living room.  

For now, the boys are excited and are even hinting they may purposely leave a toy out tonight so they have to earn it back in the morning.  I know that's not going to last very long.  Right now, my plan is to collect any toys that are left in common areas after bedtime.  If that's successful, and we can finish organizing and cleaning their playroom, I will proceed to do the same for any toys not put away in there after bed time.  I like that I'm teaching them to put things back where they belong and that they're learning how to be even more helpful around the house.  I have to emphasize, the chores in the can are in addition to a list of regular chores they complete each week to earn part of their allowance (more on that another day) so I had to be creative with what else they could reasonable accomplish to earn a toy back.

Here's my step by step instructions for how I made the toy box and I've included a GIF of the sign I re-created off the Pinterest picture.  If you try this out, let me know how it works for you.

 Feel to right click on this image, choose "Save Image As" and use it in your own project if you like.

I typed up my list of chores in Word using the "Cooper Black" font at size 22 and double spaced between lines.  It worked out well but you could probably use whatever font you like--just print it on regular paper first and hold your sticks up to it to make sure everything fits correctly. After I printed out the chore list, I cut them into strips and started gluing them to large craft sticks. 

 I used watered down white school glue (like Elmer's) and a paintbrush to apply the strips of paper.  It will dry clear, kind of like Modge Podge without the expense.

Once they were applied, I flipped them over and trimmed the excess paper with scissors.

I wrapped an empty can in coordinating scrapbook paper.  Then I wrapped a cardboard box in brown paper, glued the sign on the front and attached the can with more white glue and a paperclip to hold it in place.

Once my craft sticks were dry, I stuck them in the can.

I've already collected my first toy after tripping over it on the floor this morning.