DEB FINCK: Founder, Executive Director
Twenty years ago, my husband Charlie and I made the best decision of our lives, and embraced the God-given gift of our adopted son, Jonathan. He is a most remarkable person…always reaching out for relationship wherever he goes, always teaching us about ourselves, testing our ability to give and receive love, and showing us the joy of simple connection.
Even so, Jonathan's world is small. Beyond our family and a few close friends, his daily life has been filled with teachers, therapists, paid care providers, and classmates also deemed "special education" students. For Jonathan, as with many people impacted by autism and developmental differences, public school has been the primary source of social contact and the connection between his small world and the larger one most of us inhabit.
In a year or so, Jonathan will graduate from his "school-to-life" program, and his world will change drastically. For many adults touched by intellectual and developmental disabilities, life after public school can be lonely and isolating, especially for those who continue to live in family homes with aging parents. Charlie and I are 70 and 64, and at some point, we won't be able to care for our son. What will his life be like then? Where will he live, safely and securely? Where will he grow older? Who--besides paid providers--will take the time to know Jonathan, to talk to him, encourage him to be his very best self? Who will be a reliable friend to him, share life with him, value him for the remarkable person that he is? Who will love him?
As we asked these questions for our son, we recognized something new: these are issues central to us all, not just those whom we deem to be "vulnerable, isolated," or, with "special needs." Somehow, in considering the needs of our son, we must look outward to the broader idea of healthy, inclusive communities for all people!
In June of 2013, a small group of parents and professionals formed BUILDING OHANA as a Washington state nonprofit to offer a community response to these issues, identifying home and neighborhood as a place where all individuals and families can be helped to thrive--to better know who we are and how we matter to others. It is my privilege to serve as a founding board member and the executive director for BUILDING OHANA. My personal and professional experience helps to equip me for this service, and our son Jonathan continues to inspire me--every day-- to help to create this new option for supported community living in Spokane.