Brave New Year

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA

It has felt like climbing up a mountain, hasn’t it? 2020 has been a year of unprecedented everything, and there will be lots of videos, blogs, and news to reflect upon this past year and look to the horizon for a better 2021. New Year’s Day has long been a symbol of fresh starts and resolutions, which is a great way to approach the new year.

But let’s face it. Nothing will be all that different on a worldwide level on January 1. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, still looking for answers and witnessing or participating in all kinds of disagreement about the “best” way to handle the situation. This includes personal choices as well as government mandates. Nothing seems to be the perfect answer. So instead of re-hashing everything that has been tough about 2020, or making all kinds of glowing predictions about everything getting better when the calendar changes, I would like to reflect on the things that have been positive this year and how we can bravely move forward to bring all the best things that have come from the pandemic into the next year.

For many people, priorities have shifted. All around me I have seen such a re-focus on family and quality time with loved ones, because for much of the year we have been forced to isolate ourselves into smaller bubbles of contact. So in these bubbles many people have been able to really appreciate and enjoy that time and those people, reconnecting with an emphasis on quality of time spent together rather than trying to fit all kinds of activities into our time. For the new year, think about the times you have been able to find more enjoyment and relaxation with close loved ones, and when things start to feel more normal in the rest of the world remember the value of these times. Make it a priority to seek out those connections with family and close friends.

In our communities, we can all find countless examples of increased giving and support. In the spring, my local community had a surge of donations to food pantries, people volunteering to take food to others, and providing other types of support to families who had experienced job losses or health-related difficulties. Many towns and cities experienced a surge of support for local businesses, including people intentionally shopping at local stores and making efforts to support local restaurants by dining in or taking out food to help those businesses remain open. This spirit of giving back and providing support does not have to go away when the pandemic eases – our communities can always use support.

Large companies have also reached out to help people in need during the pandemic. Of special note is the focus on helping students to make the best of the situation. For school-age students with no internet in the home, companies across the country made internet available to families for free. In many areas, companies created free Wifi hotspots for students to use during school closures. In addition, there have been some nice efforts from everything from insurance companies reducing rates or waiving certain fees to all of these companies that have thoughtfully and often generously established ways to give back specifically to help in the wake of COVID-19. The surge of support from companies that can actually make a difference should help us see the positive side of humanity during difficult times.

In so many ways, we have seen a surge of creativity and industrious efforts to keep people connected. Between updates to Zoom, entertainment giants such as Netflix creating easy ways for people to have movie parties from different locations, and online games increasing access and ease for allowing people to spend virtual time together. We have all had to be more creative and flexible to stay connected to our loved ones, and the technology available to us has given us great opportunities to spend time together.

During this time, we have seen heroic efforts in medicine. Our health care workers across the board have been amazing, providing care under stressful conditions. Throughout this pandemic, there have been ever-changing guidelines on how to treat people who become very ill and have to stay in the hospital for lengthy periods of time. But our health care teams across the country and around the world have stepped up day after day to rise to the challenge of providing the best possible care. They are true heroes. In addition to the health care workers in the field, there have been incredible scientific efforts to learn more about this virus and to develop treatments and preventions, including the vaccines, to help bring an end to the pandemic. Scientific teams have worked around the clock to ensure medical progress that will help save lives.

In education, teachers and staff have gone to incredible lengths to provide the best possible education during this time. Parents have stepped up as partners, providing support while students are learning from home. As exhausting as this has been for both teachers and parents, the efforts have been tireless. Also, educators have tapped into creative and innovative ways to keep students engaged. Look at these North Carolina teachers who have come up with fun and engaging ways to teach online, or this one, who does different character videos for her interactive online class. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But it is also not stagnant – educators and parents are rising to the challenges and continuing to do what they can to give students the best educational experience possible under the circumstances.

I could go on and on with all the creativity and goodwill that has come out of our experience with COVID-19. But let’s take some time now to think about how we start off the new year with courage and strong hearts. One approach is to focus on our great need for things to get better, to get back to normal, to stop needing to think about masks and distancing and limiting interaction and activities. These things will be realized, probably within the next year but not within the next month. So to move forward with positivity, to be brave in the new year, take some inspiration from any of the categories listed above. In the new year, what will your resolutions be? It is always good to spend some time reflecting on personal habits and making changes for yourself, but look at all the positive changes so many people have made over the past year out of necessity. These positive changes have required courage, commitment and positivity. Let’s look back at 2020 with acknowledgement of how different and how difficult it has been, while we look to 2021 with optimism, and a renewed sense of positivity for what can be done by all of us, even under the most challenging of circumstances.

Here’s how to make your Christmas shopping more meaningful this year.

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA. 12.9.20

2020 has been a year to remember for everyone on the planet. Without getting into the details or repeating the same laments that we have all been sharing for months, I’ll just acknowledge that for many people, the holidays are feeling just a little but different this year. Who would have imagined that deciding whether or not to visit family would be a difficult and complicated decision? This is coupled with changes in our communities including restaurants and small businesses struggling every day to stay open and maintain hope.

So this year, it’s not too late to think about some ways to make your shopping more meaningful. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, so why not turn now to looking local to support your neighbors and community businesses? Here are some ideas to give back to your community while giving gifts to your friends and families.

  1. For anyone who follows me, you know that one thing near and dear to my heart is supporting people with diverse abilities. Has anyone noticed an increase in businesses that specifically and intentionally support people with diverse abilities? I have! Here are some examples:
    • Bitty and Beau’s Coffee. I had the incredible pleasure a couple years ago of walking into the absolutely beautiful Bitty and Beau’s shop in Charleston, SC without knowing anything about it. While waiting in line for my coffee, I learned about the company by looking around and reading some of the signs. Bitty and Beau’s was started by a family who has 2 children with Down Syndrome. They employ people with all kinds of unique needs and their mission is to promote full community inclusion. The have 4 locations: Charleston, SC – Wilmington, NC – Savannah, GA – Annapolis, MD. If you live near any of these consider stopping by and getting your loved ones gift cards. Or, you can go to their online shop and order coffee beans or check out their merch. They have everything from care packages to clothing with their logo to awareness items such as the #notbroken and the Radically Inclusive shirts and hats. A great way to support a business with a mission and find great gifts this holiday season.
    • John’s Crazy Socks. You will love this shop. This is a father-son business, with John, who has Down Syndrome, and his Dad, Mark. Look at their story for some real inspiration! They started selling fun and crazy socks online in 2016 and have gained a huge following. They have the best socks – fun, funny, colorful, crazy socks. They also sell a variety of awareness socks along with monthly subscriptions and are currently carrying a variety of face masks. Half of their employees have differing abilities. So, if you are looking for some fun gifts this is a good option for supporting community inclusion while checking off some boxes on your gift list.
    • We Are Lions. What a great idea this website is! They showcase items made by people with differing needs from all over the world. The site has categories for everyone, including clothing, home and bath, and accessories. All items will give you an artist profile so you can see exactly whose day you will be making a little bit better by buying their product.
    • Online specialty stores that showcase and sell items made and produced by people with differing needs. The websites are beautiful and they have fabulous products. Some of them include Purely Patrick, specializing in gourmet food from Vermont; Special Sparkle, offering lovely handmade bracelets, Two Blind Brothers, a site that gives you options of how much to spend and then sends you a box (you are blind to what you will get until it arrives, but they promise you that you will love it), and all profits go to the Foundation Fighting Blindness. There are many similar sites you can find by searching for special needs businesses online, and all your purchases from these places will support community inclusion and opportunity for these ambitious and creative individuals.
    • Local shops who focus on supporting special needs. This may include employment opportunities or showcasing products. Some examples include No Label at the Table in Indianapolis, One for All Gifts on Long Island, South Fork Bakery on Long Island, Just Goods Gifts in West Michigan, Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolate in Fairfax, VA. There are way too many to list but if you look in your community you will likely find some businesses that are either run by people with diverse abilities, or who mindfully employ those with diverse abilities.

2. Shop small, shop local. This Small Business Saturday movement started in 2010 with the support of American Express. The idea is to support small, local businesses by dedicating a day to shopping at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving – right after the Black Friday madness. This year, it is even more important to consider local purchases. What about Covid, though, and being out in the community? Well, many small shops have set up online experiences to allow you to shop online and pick up your items curbside or right inside the store to limit crowds. The website gives information about local small businesses in your area by using the interactive map. Clicking the dot for any business on the map will give you easy access to the address of the business and the website.

3. Give the gift of local services. We all know how much the restaurant and entertainment businesses have been affected by the pandemic. There are so many choices for local gifts in every area of the country. When it comes to gift certificates and gift cards, nothing would make your favorite local spots happier than to have people buy gifts to use and enjoy. You could consider any range of gifts, including restaurants, bakeries, car washes, spa and salon services, coffee shops, pet grooming, design services, art classes, fitness or yoga classes, or memberships to local museums. Not only does this support the local service industry, but it is a gift that keeps on giving after the holiday season, giving your friends and family something to look forward to in the coming weeks and months.

This time of year can be wonderful and difficult for all of us, on any given year. This year, let’s use it to give ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities an infusion of support and hope to push us into 2021 with a renewed sense of optimism.