A New, New Castle Committee Formed to Address Special Needs
By Heather Skolnick
The Census Bureau estimated in 2010 that 19% of the United States population has a disability. That’s approximately one in five. That means in a group of five friends, one of them may have a disability. In a classroom with 20 students, four may have a disability. While the definition of disability may be broad, the prevalence of it in the United States is incredible.
National statistics on those with a disability are alarming. Those with a disability are significantly less likely to earn their high school diploma. They also earn far less than their same age peers, and are far more likely to be living in poverty.
To support our neighbors in our community with disabilities, in 2015, the town of New Castle formed the New Castle Exceptional People Committee. According to Town Supervisor Robert Greenstein, its mission is to “report and make recommendations to the Town Board on the concerns of the Town’s special needs residents, provide updates on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and disseminate information on the Town’s recreational, educational and social programming for all age groups of residents with special needs.
The Committee will focus its efforts on organized recreational, educational, social and skill-building activities and work to raise general awareness about the needs and rights of persons with disabilities.”
Thus far in 2016, nine members were appointed and a round table session was held to discuss employment opportunities for people with special needs. The committee meets a few times a month and discusses the things they would like to accomplish. The Committee includes people who have disabilities themselves as well as those who have a friend or family member who does.
I met with Kevin O’Brien, one of the appointed members of the Committee. Kevin is the youngest member of the committee and has special needs. At 19, he brings a unique perspective and represents the young adult population. Kevin is very passionate about the New Castle Exceptional People Committee. He said, “It offers me a good way to express my ideas and suggest strategies for people with different disabilities that we think can make their future better.”
Kevin’s ideas span the gamut, from social to physical to philanthropic activities. Kevin would love local opportunities to be social, in a way that is comfortable to him and people like him. He is, after all, a teenager, and would like to be with peers and have fun! He has organized his ideas into two categories. The first encompasses exercise and nature. He suggests organized bike rides, hikes, bird watching. Another idea is watching sports, but for those with sensory issues, all buzzers, loud noises and flashing lights eliminated. he second category includes ways to be a part of the community. He suggests book discussion groups, art and music classes.
Kevin also suggested a Habitat for Humanity project that is specific to the Special Needs community and their abilities. These are all things that New Castle currently offers for the general population, but Kevin suggests separate instances with modifications as needed.
Kevin recently graduated from high school and will soon be looking for a first job that suits his skill set and meets his interests while accommodating his special needs. This is an area the committee will continue to address–how to ensure that the special needs community has the necessary job skills to get and maintain a job as well as how to find an appropriate position. Perhaps someone reading this very article knows of something that would be a good fit for Kevin!
A recent post on Facebook’s Chappaqua Moms group by one of the members let the community know of the group’s existence with the intent of identifying more of the Special Needs community. The group wants to be sure that they truly are serving the wishes of the community that spans young and old, with various disabilities. The need is clear for a group such as this one and there is no doubt that they will accomplish much if my conversation with Kevin is any indicator.
When I initially reached out to Kevin via email, he responded, “I am so inspired by the town‘s responsiveness to the concerns of people with disabilities.” But it is I who is inspired by him and his passion for making this town a better place for those with a disability.
Heather Skolnick and her husband Neal have three young children. They have been New Castle residents for ten years. When Heather isn’t writing articles, she works for a footwear company as their Director of Planning.