Mark Hassemer

Dear Friends of ACT:

Here’s a link to a video I think you’ll enjoy. http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=11914982 It’s about 11 year old Owen Howkins and his rescued Anatolian shepherd dog, Haatchi. They’re best friends.

Together, they won the Friends for Life category at the biggest dog show in the U.K., Crufts.

When I played it for staff here at ACT more than a few tears flowed.

Their story, you’ll see, is a touching one about survival, acceptance, judgment, and friendship. It’s not just about a boy and his dog, it’s about the work we do, too.

Because of his rare genetic disorder, Schwartz Jampel syndrome, Owen is in nearly constant excruciating pain.

I marveled at Owen’s ability to deal with the never-ending pain of walking, dressing, or any kind of moving. It’s always there. As with many of the people with developmental disabilities whom we serve, his struggles will likely remain forever. It’s about survival.

You’ll also see that when you introduce an aid or device meant to knock down a barrier, you sometimes create a new challenge. For Owen, it was a wheelchair. It was supposed to make it easier for him to get around. Instead, Owen noticed that people stared at him. “It made me feel alone,” he said.

Besides Haatchi’s amazing eyes, you’ll discover in the video the other qualities that make him unique. When he and Owen first met, there was instant understanding between the two, an immediate connection. Soon Owen realized that when he went out with Haatchi, peopled stared at his dog, not him. He began looking forward to his walks with Haatchi.

Our mission at ACT is to create opportunities for people with disabilities to become participating members of the community. But we need to be sure the community opens its arms and welcomes them. We think we might have some pretty good ideas. But not everyone is accepting. It’s about acceptance.

We’re not the ones being stared at. We’re not the ones being criticized. Owen felt it. I’m sure some of the people we serve have felt it, too. This video conveys a strong message about the loneliness and isolation that might be felt when you’re judged for being different. It’s about judgment.

The video also delivers on the transformational power of true relationship.

I welcome the day when the people we work with have lives that are deeply intertwined with those of their friends. These friends share their joys and struggles and serve as bridges into clubs, religious services, social events, and fraternal organizations. When deeply immersed in shared interests, differences dissolve unnoticed into the background. It’s about friendship.

Everyone is different. Everyone’s unique. But the things we share in common move us past our differences and on to a shared life of greater possibility.

This great video tells that story far better than I can.

Until next month,

Mark