Opportunity is defined as a “set of circumstances that make it possible to do something.” That definition begs the questions: What is a recent opportunity that you took advantage of? Who gave you an opportunity? What did you do with your opportunity? Where is your next opportunity coming from? Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Someone might bless you with a monetary gift that opens up an opportunity; someone might articulate words of wisdom that help create clarity and direction for an opportunity; and an opportunity can present itself through simple acknowledgement or recognition. My opportunity to present this “Talk” for today’s “Circle Up” at LIFESPAN came by way of Christopher White. At a recent “Circle Up,” Mr. White shared a moving story about his experience being a life coach. I was present. His words motivated me. They encouraged me to recommit myself to bringing a sense of normalcy and independence to the individuals that I serve as Life Coach through LIFESPAN’s Life Works program. His words helped me see what an opportunity I have to transform people’s lives. But, it also opened up another opportunity. I told Christopher how much his story impacted me. He encouraged me to share my story with Mr. Fuquay, LIFESPAN’s Chief Ambassador of Empowerment. And Mr. Fuquay encouraged me to share it with all of you. So here I am seizing the opportunity that has come to me and I am leading “Circle Up” this week. Let me repeat that…here I am, seizing an opportunity that was presented to me. That’s why I’m standing before you. I’d like to borrow from Ms. Oprah Winfrey for minute. You know how, in the middle of her show, she points to her guests and says, “You get a car, and you get a car and you get get a car?” That’s what I want to say to each of you—but instead of a car, you get something better. “You get an opportunity.” And you get an opportunity and you get an opportunity… Each of you is being presented with an opportunity this very minute and you’ll be presented with more opportunities through this day. I’ve discovered that opportunities are like a great piece of Lindt Chocolate. The outer shell is hard but the inside is ooey gooey and O so good! Opportunities can be hard and challenging, even overwhelming at first. But, once you get past the initial jolt and you settle into how and what you are going to do with your opportunity, you eventually reach the wonderful sensation of accomplishment and joy. You know I have to say it! Opportunity is knocking. Will you answer it?
According to the Autism Speaks Organization, April is designated as World autism Awareness month. Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States. According to the American Psychiatric Association, we know that there is not one autism but many sub-types; most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently. Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accomplished by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues. Our weekly “Circle Up” at LIFESPAN highlights the fact that just as individuals with autism are unique and special in their gifts, talents and challenges, so are each one of us. Yes, you are unique; separately set apart; there is no other person in the whole wide world that is fashioned, patterned, designed or made like you. Your fingerprint…your DNA makeup…are uniquely yours. You were cut from a special cloth. You are special and perfect in your own uniqueness in that there is no other person in this world to which you can be compared. So, eliminate the urge of allowing others to validate you and comparing yourself to others…consider this since you are unique. There is no comparison. Your journey is completely yours. It is unique. Others may try to steal part of it…tell it in their words…or shape it to suit themselves. However, the reality is no one can live it or own it but you. Take charge of your journey; it’s yours and yours alone. It is not an accident that each one of us works together, here at LifeSpan. We combine our talents and gifts and lend ourselves to the care and keep of individuals with autism and other special needs. Destiny has brought us all together for such a time as this. Keep this one thought in mind, when our uniqueness is celebrated and connected, it suddenly becomes something far greater than its individual truth. For us it manifests itself through the unlimited possibilities that lie within each of the unique individuals we serve…we celebrate their uniqueness as we work tirelessly to help those individuals not only see their potential but live into the unique possibilities for their life. Celebrate your uniqueness! Celebrate the uniqueness of others! It is the beautiful, rich and vibrant tapestry of humanity! —Marie Roberts, Accounting & Billing Specialist, LIFESPAN
A few important words from Amy Ford, LIFESPAN Program Director for Special Instruction & Community Based Rehabilitation Services: Spring has sprung! It is officially spring; the daffodils are poking their heads out, the cherry trees are in blossom, the grass is greening and the birds are singing verbosely. Spring gives me a profound sense of gratitude. But, I’ve learned some important things about GRATITUDE. Some of you know that this past year has been really rough for me, personally. Surprisingly, I have been able to stay positive and I owe a lot of that to being able to focus on the things for which I am grateful. Even in the midst of the “hard” stuff, there are things for which we can be grateful. I have always been told that focusing on the things you are thankful for helps counteract the negative things happening all around. That’s true and since I’m an elementary school teacher, I’ve found some interesting scientific evidence to back it up. Gratitude can: (physically) give us stronger immune systems cause us to be typically less bothered with aches & pains lower our blood pressure Gratitude can: (psychologically) give us higher levels of positive emotions make us feel more alert, alive and awake help us be more optimistic & happy Gratitude can: (socially) make us more outgoing make us more forgiving make us feel less lonely & isolated Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions and it can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. Grateful people are more stress resistant. Studies have shown that grateful people recover more quickly from serious trauma, adversity & suffering. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I am inspired by this quote from self-help author, Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” I encourage all of us to fill our lives with gratitude. It’s better for us than a multi-vitamin. (As part of our weekly “circle-up” at LIFESPAN Shopton, Amy created a garden display and had all of us to write our “gratefuls” on a butterfly and add it to the garden.) **Why Gratitude is Good by Robert Emmons / Nov 16 2010 / greatergood.berkley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
From LIFESPAN Ambassador, Toni Huneycutt Let me start by saying to the ladies, “You are awesome. And everyday you should be celebrated!” March 8th is International Women’s Day. Additionally, the entire month of March is celebrated as Women’s Month. Why do need an International Women’s Day and why do we need a Women’s Month? It gives the world an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the achievements of women throughout history; it calls attention to the many obstacles women have overcome in their long struggle to be recognized and valued as fully human and independent; it also gives cause to celebrate the important roles women fill daily in culture and society. Did you know that Kevlar ( a synthetic fiber used to make bullet-proof vests) was invented by a woman? Are you aware that it was a woman who invented electric hot water heaters, fire escapes, life rafts, medical syringes, dishwashers, windshield wipers and probably most importantly, chocolate chip cookies? Even an organization like LIFESPAN owes a debt of gratitude to a woman. LIFESPAN might never have existed if it had not been for Dorothea Dix. Ms. Dix was one of the first people in the world to recognize the importance of care for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. She created the first facility in the nation specifically devoted to the care of those individuals. In an era when no one was talking about the needs of individuals with mental health and developmental disabilities, Dorothea Dix brought it to the forefront. International Women’s Day was adopted by the United Nations in 1975; however, it has been celebrated ’round the world since 1911. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Balance for Better. (#balanceforbetter). This theme was chosen because we are now entering an exciting period in history when the world desperately needs and is searching for balance. We need balance. We notice its absence and we celebrate its presence. How can we help create balance? All of us can work together to engage in conversations about women and women’s issues; we can bring attention to the women in our lives; we can celebrate their successes and notice the small and many ways the women in our lives strive to make the world a better place every single day. Be willing to engage in tough conversations on subjects like gender inequality and the salary gap. Be ready and willing to listen to the stories of the women in your life; share your story and most importantly, mentor the young ladies in you life. I challenge each of you to help build a much more gender-balanced world. Balance is not just a woman’s issue, it’s a human issue. (Editor’s note: When Toni presented this to the team of ambassadors at LIFESPAN, she distributed purple pens and ask all the ladies in the group to “leave their mark.” Purple is significant because it represents justice and dignity for women throughout the world. As Toni said, “no women should every be discouraged to leave her mark!”)
When I was younger, everybody would say, “Your smile is beautiful.” As a matter of fact, I’ve always been told my smile is one of my best attributes. I’ve discovered some very important things about SMILES. “To smile” is to form one’s facial features into a pleasing, kind or amusing expression; typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed. (By the way, it takes 62 muscles to frown, but only 26 to smile.) According to Maya Angelou, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” So, if you have only one smile in you, give it away! Scientists have discovered that smiling on-purpose helps people feel better. Just the simple act of putting a smile on your face can lead you to feel and experience happiness, joy and amusement. Smiling on purpose changes the chemistry in your brain. Smiling has also been proven to help people deal with and manage depression and anxiety. We never know what our co-ambassadors are going through on a personal level. Some days they may be struggling inside and one simple smile from you can brighten their day, ease their burden and help them refocus their day. A sincere smile has the power to transform. I challenge you to try it! Smile. Smile at someone today and see what happens. It just might change their day…and yours, too! —Dantrelle “Dannie” Mcclure (Administrative Assistant LIFESPAN & LIFEWORKS) (By they way, Dannie challenged all of us gathered at LIFESPAN Shopton to smile. And to help us do it, she provided a “Selfie Frame” Take a look at what happened. It was transformative! And P.S. thanks for the Smile Bags, Dannie.)
A note from Robin Devore… Because of an unexpected medical leave, I had to work from home for several weeks. During that time, I was reminded how fortunate I am to work at a place that I call my “second home.” I call it my “second home” because for almost 24 years, I have grown with the individuals we support and the LIFESPAN ambassadors who provide that support. Over those two-plus-decades, I have come to realize that everything I do each and everyday has some type of impact on both the LIFESPAN individuals and the LIFESPAN ambassadors. Some days, it’s as simple as sharing a smile or giving a hug. Other days, it’s much more challenging as we work to give voice to those who don’t have a voice and advocate for those who have no one left to fight for them. At the end of the day, I know that what I’ve done has made a difference in someone’s life. I don’t have a “job.” I have a lifelong learning experience with incredible gratification. I truly get more back than I will ever be able to give. As a reminder to everyone — do what you love and enjoy, do what brings you happiness, smile at least three times a day, and let go of the things that take up negative space in your head. “Be You” and be happy! Then go change the world one smile and one hug at a time. -Robin
This may sound a little cliche, but I was asked what’s important to me. Without hesitation, I can truly say, “My son is important to me.” Knowing that my son is counting on me encourages me to knock down the day-to-day challenges whether it is in my professional or personal life. My son has made me become more responsible by helping me realize that I now have this little person relying on me. He is depending on me. He is trusting in me. Being a first-time mother is scary and it may seem like hard work, but when you truly enjoy doing something and see the value in it, it doesn’t feel like work; it doesn’t seem so hard. Which leads me to say, as the days pass, we are saddled with deadlines and benchmarks and work goals that we have to meet. We are really good at the “how,” but it’s easy to lose sight of the “why” for our work. My fellow LIFESPAN Ambassadors, we are providing support for the individuals we serve so that they can engage the skills necessary to fulfill their life; to reach their full potential; to experience joy in life! I love what I do and when I see the individuals we support flourishing and experiencing joy in their lives, it gives me joy. And I realize that all the effort; all the deadlines, and goals and benchmarks are worth it. The individuals we serve hold me accountable, just like my son does. They remind me why I do what I do. And knowing the “why” makes me want to do everything possible to make sure the programs we offer for this individuals thrive and grow and continue. So, my challenge to you, my fellow LIFESPAN Ambassadors, is to find the “joy” in our work. Experience the “why” in our work. And…take some time in our work day to experience the “joy.” I challenge all of us to display that “joy” and share it with others. And in the event, you’re having a little trouble finding the joy, think about a great moment when you really connected with an individual; think about that moment when your individual learned a new skill; think about how you helped a family member or friend or co-Ambassador. I promise, if you just give it a little effort, you will find the “joy” and reconnect with the “why.” And then, when you find the joy, do me a favor. Get up and do a dance. Seriously, stand up, put on some music and dance. Know the “why” and experiencing the “joy” is reason enough to dance! -Chelsea Freeman, Qualified Professional for LifeWorks. LifeWorks is a community based program designed for adults with developmental disabilities to help them achieve financial independence and personal acceptance.
Rhythm… the motion of the sea… & continuous learning… These are the melodies of life that ring true for me. Hi, my name is Marilyn Pryor and I am the receptionist at the Shopton Campus of LIFESPAN. I often use corporately acceptable language to describe me as “seasoned,” which actually means I am not as young as most of you. But, don’t discount me. I am a wealth of experiences, insight and seasoned information. You can learn something from me and I can learn something from you. We learn by mingling with each other, exchanging ideas and sharing experiences. We learn by getting to know one another. We learn by embracing something different, considering something new and not shying away from thing that might seem challenging. One experience that has taught me much is Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR is a broad term used to describe a company’s efforts to improve society. It’s is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. These efforts can range from donating money to non-profits to implementing environmentally-friendly policies in the workplace. CSR is a concept whereby businesses and organizations consider the interest of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on its customers, suppliers and employees. CSR is something we, as employees of LIFESPAN should strongly consider. Why? Because we are LIFESPAN; we are who we present, we are what we put on display to those we come in contact with. Those who encounter us are encountering LIFESPAN. We are ambassadors for LIFESPAN and as such we have a responsibility. So, as your fellow LIFESPAN Ambassador, I have a challenge for you: I challenge you to forever be in a state of learning. I challenge you to engage your life in a forward motion. I challenge you to open your mind to new ideas, share new ideas and to be open to varied and new ways of thinking. I challenge you to consider yourself a LIFESPAN ambassador in everything you do. But keep in mind… Know when to pause for just a moment and glean what you can from that moment, because non-apparent resolutions can be the solution to your present quandary. All the best as we all accept responsibility for making this world a better place to exist. Marilyn
After what, I felt, was a productive meeting with a Managed Care Organization in Uptown Charlotte, Christopher invited me to swing by LIFESPAN’s Creative Campus Center City. Never having visited 601 North Graham Street, I was curious as to what type of edifice in uptown could house a Creative Campus. I was pleasantly surprised as we turned the corner and eased our way into the parking lot. Creative Campus Center City is a beautiful building on a beautiful piece of property located just inside the Brookshire perimeter in Uptown Charlotte. The facility is aesthetically pleasing and it is the kind of facility, I believe, all of the individuals we support need and deserve. Panchita Hutchinson-Jackson, Creative Campus Center City Director, greeted us at the door with her very famous and infectious smile. For those of you who have met “Pan,” you know I’m telling the truth. Her smile is a gift. Pan is a transplant from New Jersey, and has worked with LIFESPAN for 25 years. Yes, you read that correctly. Pan celebrated her silver anniversary with LIFESPAN in October 2018. I asked “Pan” why she does what she does. She replied, “Because it’s all I know I how to do. I tried other professions, but I always came back to caring for these individuals. It’s what I know how to do. I have to do it!” Panchita and her staff do it well. The facility is well appointed, but like most facilities, there are areas that need sprucing up. I encouraged “Pan” to always be specific about what she wants and needs for her program. That does not mean that LIFESPAN will always be able to accommodate, but it does mean, we’ll know exactly what you want and we will work hard to make it happen. I met some of the most joyous and loving and courageous individuals and their caregivers. Our LIFESPAN ambassadors at Creative Campus Center City are: Martha and Ruby, Michael and Yokechia, Ronald and Miracle, Mecca and Katrice, Rachelle and Tanara, Linda and Lakendra. By the way, Lakendra and I were in pre-service training together and I’m certain she aced all the tests! I am so proud of our LIFESPAN Ambassadors. The work you do is challenging and most days, I am certain, it seems to be a thankless job. Please allow me to say, “Thank you!” Thank you for caring; thank you for being faithful; thank you for going the extra mile. It is you who make the difference in peoples’ lives every single day; it is you who are transforming the world one person at a time and it is you who make LIFESPAN what it is. When I returned to my office after visiting the Creative Campus Center City, I was so moved by what I witnessed that I experienced one of those moments when heaven and earth intersect. The Celtics, in their spirituality, call that intersection a “thin place.” I call those intersections “God-moments.” Call them what you will because they do happen! In that moment, I was even more grateful to be part of such an amazing organization as LIFESPAN. I sat down in the break room to eat a late lunch and Amy Shepherd from the Compliance Department came in to prepare herself a cup of coffee. As we chatted, Amy shared with me that she and her husband like to pick up discarded furniture and refurbish it. Sometimes they find it on the side of the road; sometimes they find it at a second-hand store. But in each case, someone else has decided the piece of furniture is of no value to them any longer. Amy and her husband see value in things that other people have thrown away. They look past the gruff exterior and see the beauty waiting to be exposed. As Amy and I talked about her hobby, it dawned on me! LIFESPAN is in the “bringing-out-the-beauty” business. LIFESPAN takes those things (people) that society has deemed “throw away” or “of no value” and we re-value them. We look past the gruff exterior and see the beauty inside; we see value in every human being and pour out of ourselves into their lives and in a way, we help refurbish them. Of course, the truth of the matter is, they refurbish us, as well. Dear Ambassadors, the work you do will never receive the attention that a well-executed pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen receives. But you are changing the world more deeply and more effectively than any inconsequential football game. You matter. Your work is important and necessary. LIFESPAN is working to create an organization that will allow you to flourish and be the best version of yourself as you care for the individuals we support and help them be the best version of themselves. I am thrilled to be on this journey with you. – Ken Fuquay, Chief Ambassador of Empowerment