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MoCAN is ready to present what they've learned

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

SIKESTON -- Volunteers are trained and now the Missouri Community Advocacy Network (MoCAN) is ready to present what they've learned.

"Our main goal is to make general awareness of developmental disabilities. There are so many little things that people (who don't have disabilities) take for granted," said volunteer Tracy DePriest for MoCAN Region 9 Council.

From schools and businesses to churches, state departments and social organizations, MoCAN provides training about developmental disabilities for all groups, DePriest said.

"Somehow, somewhere you will always run into to someone with a disability," DePriest said. "And you never know if you will have a family member with a disability."

Last year, MoCAN was designated in 11 regions of the state. Family and consumer leadership teams were created to educate communities and state agencies about practices which would include, rather than exclude, persons with disabilities.

Region 9 is comprised of nine counties, Mississippi, New Madrid, Scott, Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Pemiscot, Perry and Ste. Genevieve, with two volunteers, DePriest, and Ruby George.

"A well-known example of someone becoming developmentally disabled is (actor) Christopher Reeve," DePriest said. "He's one of our biggest advocates and has even said, 'You never know what can happen.'"

A person is classified as having a developmental disability if they are mentally retarded, have cerebral palsy, epilepsy, head injury or autism, or a learning disability related to a brain dysfunction; or if they have any other mental or physical impairment or a combination of the two, which stops or prevents normal development, according to the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

MoCAN is the result of a partnership between the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Human Development, Americorps Volunteers In Service To America, the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Missouri Planning Council.

DePriest said MoCAN volunteers will make presentations to individuals with developmental disabilities, parents or family members of individuals with developmental disabilities, service provider agencies, educators and the general public.

"We're trying to get in with the young children because they're the ones who are so sensitive, and we want the learning to start at an early age," DePriest said, adding MoCAN is looking for groups to present to.

Presentations generally last an hour, but can be adjusted to fit any group's needs, DePriest said. Skits are really popular with crowds, and seem to be most effective with people, she said.

"Sometimes we do things in life without realizing what we are doing or saying when it involves an individual with a disability. With the skits, we can show what most people do and then how it should be done," DePriest said.

Another of MoCAN's successful activities is making a dream catcher while presenting to those with developmental disabilities. Making a dream catcher consists of forming a circle and telling your dreams.

"One time I was presenting at a home for people with developmental disabilities, and I asked what everyone's dream was," DePriest recalled. "And I was so amazed at how many couldn't answer the question. There were eight people in the room with developmental disabilities and only two had a dream. The others said they didn't have any."

DePriest said she had to explain to the group that dreams are OK -- whether they can be made true or not. Some of them have never realized they have an opportunity to dream, she said.

"Imagine never having a dream your entire life," DePriest said. "Many of these people were middle-aged, too, so the point behind the dream catcher is to tell the group your dream and then maybe somebody in that room can help make it come true."

Volunteers focus on politically correct language, such as self-determination, choices and responsibility as they relate to people with developmental disabilities.

"We want to teach people to show respect in others that may be different from them," DePriest said.

For more information or to schedule a presentation, call the MoCAN office located in Sikeston from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-800-497-4647.