Reflections on 40 years of community building and changing beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions
In the mid 1970’s Western Mass was the focus of two lawsuits that became landmark consent decrees: the Brewster and Ricci consent decrees. In was during this period – with a tremendous push for the development of community services and supports both for people diagnosed with mental illness and people with developmental disabilities – that the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium was formed. The Consortium’s earliest mission was clear: to serve as a catalyst for incredible change in the creation and development of community supports. We achieved this by supporting staff to think critically about a vision for positive community supports and to dream about what was possible for people who had been denied even the most basic experience of community.
There have been tremendous changes over the years, and great opportunities for new insights and learning. An important source of that learning are the people who lived with both the challenges our society continues to label as sicknesses or defects, and the wide variety of solutions, therapies and interventions. The wisdom born of lived experience is the foundation of much of our work. We find again and again the importance of relationships – respectful, peer relationships. Taking a wider view of life – one which at its foundation, believes that there are many ways to be in this world.
From our very start, our role has been unique in cultivating new perspectives, encouraging progressive initiatives, and supporting change. We view ourselves as change agents creating conditions for growth to occur; at the same time, we believe that each person is their own expert in determining what they need to grow. We value the process as much as the outcome and acknowledge that through this process, a person is gifted with ‘lived experience.’ Lived experience is not what happens to us, it’s what we do with what happens to us.