College Sponsored Summer Internship: Gertrude Heller Memorial Grant

Interested in primary care and working with the neurologically impaired? The Gertrude Albert Heller Memorial Grant is an internship fund established by Martin Heller of the Class of 1954 used to encourage students to work with the neurologically impaired in direct care efforts. Apply for funding by February 15th 2016. This internship is sponsored by Haverford College — for information about other college-sponsored internships, go to the College Sponsored Internships page on the CCPA website. Not totally sure what to expect in these internship experiences? Read your classmate Charlotte Colantti’s recounting of her experience in the Loch Arthur Community, funded by the Gertrude Albert Heller Memorial Fund.

Loch Arthur Community, Scotland

By Charlotte Colantti ’18

For most of this summer, through the Gertrude Heller Memorial Grant, I will be living and volunteering at Loch Arthur Communitypanorama_664x362 in rural south-west Scotland. Loch Arthur is an intentional community of approximately 70 people that supports 30 adults with developmental disabilities. Part of the international Camphill movement, which offers residential and vocational opportunities for people with a broad array of special needs, Loch Arthur’s ethos is to live and work cooperatively in a way that “recognizes the dignity and uniqueness of each human being” regardless of perceived ability or disability. The community is organized into seven shared households that include adults with developmental disabilities, young volunteers (such as myself) who stay for one or two years, and long-term volunteers who are responsible for the house, but not staff in the conventional sense. As such, the house is the basic unit of the community and is a model of an integrated, thoroughly inclusive shared life that extends throughout Loch Arthur.

The community also runs a variety of workshops, including a creamery, bakery, vegetable garden, wood workshop, and farm. These workshops offer the possibility for developing practical skills, and create meaningful work in which people take a great deal of pride. Not only do the workshops offer meaningful work for people who might otherwise go without, but they also produce high-quality products that are sold throughout the region by way of the community’s busy farm shop. In fact, Loch Arthur’s creamery is quite highly respected among artisan Scottish cheese-makers (admittedly a niche coterie) and their cheeses are sold far-afield in Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland’s Central Belt. The workshop is a microcosmic example of a ‘social enterprise,’ where profit is paired social responsibility, in this case quite directly. I hope in this brief snapshot of the Loch Arthur’s organizational model, I’ve paid a wee bit of justice to the vibrancy of this community.
Before coming to Haverford, I lived for a year as a volunteer at Loch Arthur (mainly working in the aforementioned creamery) so I am already quite familiar with the community and the people who live here. Loch Arthur offers an alternative way to live that is community focused and re-imagines care and support for people with special needs in a way that is genuine and still realistic. Because one lives and works so closely with people with special needs, there is not necessarily the sense that one is ‘caring’ for the other, allowing either party to meet the other on equal footing, thereby transcending the conventional patient-provider paradigm. Certainly for me, this model has prompted a reconsideration the nature of disability itself.
Indeed, my idea of what ‘disability’ means has changed quite a lot with my experiences at Loch Arthur. In an effort to consider this topic in a more theoretical light, I have been reading Andrew Solomon’s book Far from the Tree, which explores the identity politics of disability. One of Solomon’s early assertions that resonated with my experiences is the socially-constructed nature of disability. He writes that “scholars stress the separation between impairment, the organic consequence of a condition, and disability, the result of social context. Being unable to move your legs, for an example, is an impairment, but being unable to enter the public library is a disability” (28). For those of you reading this post, a helpful parallel is the more well-referenced sex/gender distinction that mirrors Solomon’s impairment/disability delineation. Whereas one’s sex is an anatomically reality (like impairment), gender (like disability) is the malleable social trappings that follow. Though Solomon’s example cites a physical disability, the theory holds equally true for intellectual disabilities. Indeed, while an impairment like a developmental disability might compromise a person’s ability to function independently in an adult world, disability manifests in the sickly-sweet, infantilizing attitude the public tends to adopt in reaction to special needs people. In the integrated community of Loch Arthur, the conventional construction of disability in some ways melts away, leaving a genuine and realistic model of support and inclusion for those with special needs.
Returning to Loch Arthur, I am struck again by its unique model of what a successful, ethically-minded, and meaningful life can look like for people with developmental disabilities and without. I am truly full to the brim with gratitude for the possibility of coming back to Loch Arthur for these 2 ½ months, even if it is, in true Scottish fashion, 50 degrees and rainy for the whole summer.