KIT loves hearing stories about people all over the world who are fighting for inclusion in their communities. Each month, we recognize one person who stands out as an inclusion Advo-KIT.
This month we are recognizing Barbara “Sundy” Smith from
The Farm Institute in Massachusetts!
“Sundy is always looking for new and creative ways to support the children in her programs. When we first talked, she was sharing how unique and challenging combining a working farm and children is in general. The safety hazards of farm equipment, electric fences, [and] large animals can be risky, but some of her campers have added behavior challenges such as running away and aggression. Instead of being more rigid with participant requirements, the Farm Institute is often considered more willing to work with a child than other summer programs on the island.”
When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion?
“I came from a family where civil rights was both talked about and practiced as part of daily life. My next door neighbor and close friend when I was growing up had a younger brother with cerebral palsy, and we included him in everything, without knowing it was “inclusion.” This was in the 1950’s, and the mother was one of those quiet heroines who insisted her son go to public school. These people basically created special education. It’s important to remember what that generation did for all of us.”
What do you love about inclusion?
“My job now is not really focused on disability issues or special education. The mission of The Farm Institute is ‘to connect people of all ages and all circumstances to the science, work, and practical magic of agriculture and illuminate the trail that leads from farm to food.‘ We have become disconnected from agriculture and understanding where our food comes from for many reasons. Disability is just one of those circumstances where we need to make sure our doors are open, both physically and programmatically.”
What is your vision for an inclusive world?
“The best predictor of life outcomes for a child with a disability–and for all our children, as it turns out–is the income and education of the parents. An inclusive world is where we, as a nation, address the impact of that most disabling circumstance…poverty.”
What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?
“Well…it’s a very farm-to-table story, and perhaps not for vegetarians or the squeamish. But about a month ago, we had eight AmeriCorps volunteers working at the farm. We also had twenty high school students visiting from a charter school and about twenty students with hearing impairments from a nearby school. The AmeriCorps volunteers and most of the visiting students wanted to watch and help with chicken processing. I looked over as the kids worked on the feathers and explored the anatomy of a chicken, the farm staff explained what was going on, and two sign language interpreters assisted. It was quite a scene. I was very proud of the farm staff for their farm knowledge and their instincts for how to make this ‘teaching moment’ accessible to all.”
What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?
“The golden rule is all-powerful. What would you want from a teacher or camp counselor or other worker if you, your child, or other loved one had a disability?”
Thank you Sundy for everything that you do for the children and staff at The Farm Institute! Thank you for letting us be a part of your inclusion story!