Sharing a Common Goal

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In the United States and Russia, we share a common vision of a world where all people, regardless of ability, are welcomed and included into the community. In December, we hosted ten emerging leaders in human and social services from Russia through the Open World Leadership Center. From December 3-10, we shared and exchanged ideas about inclusion and supporting people to be valued, contributing members of their communities.

We have hosted delegations through the Open World Leadership Center since 2005, and over the years, we have built strong, lasting relationships with our international colleagues. Although we come from different countries and cultures, we share a common goal of supporting individuals with disabilities to lead full, active lives.

Our most recent delegation spent time visiting Keystone’s programs and services, as well as the programs offered at other local organizations. They learned about our autism services for children and adults, and observed some of the programs at Capital Area Intermediate Unit. They visited Capital Area Head Start at Camp Curtain Elementary School and observed four of the Head Start preschool classes. Head Start includes all children, regardless of ability. Head Start is so committed to inclusion that children who may have disabilities receive services, such as speech therapy, right in the classroom. Our delegates enjoyed visiting with the children and seeing how they and the teachers interacted. CAHS shared some of their teaching tools with the delegates so they can apply what they saw in their own programs in Russia.

The delegates met with Alex Baloga from Senator Robert Casey’s office, and they had the opportunity to ask questions about legislation and the government. Mr. Baloga answered questions about the new healthcare legislation, as well as state and federal assistance for men, women and children with disabilities.

The delegates visited two homes in Keystone Human Services Central PA’s residential services. The men and women warmly welcomed the delegates into their homes and gave them a tour. Not only did the delegates have the chance to meet the men and women who live in the homes, but they saw that the homes are located within the community and that men and women receive support to actively participate in that community.

One of the highlights of the week was the “Welcoming the World” presentation. We partnered with the World Affairs Council Harrisburg and International House to hold a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities of the new Russia. Four of our delegates shared a little bit about their lives, their home region and the work they do. It was a wonderful opportunity for us and the community to learn more about Russia and our delegates and for Americans and Russians alike to dispel some of the myths and stereotypes we hold about each other. It was an enjoyable and successful evening. If you were unable to attend the panel discussion, you still watch the video.

Although the focus of the week was to share and exchange professional ideas, we also took some time for sightseeing with our new Russian friends and colleagues. We visited New York City and walked through Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty; stopped by the Merrill Lynch bull in the financial district; toured St. Paul’s Chapel, the site of around-the-clock relief work after the collapse of the World Trade Center; and took in the view from the Top of the Rock.

We enjoyed our time with our delegates from the Open World Leadership Center. Although we had to say goodbye at the end of the week, we look forward to continuing to build our relationships with our colleagues and new friends in Russia.

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