News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

UMaine Welcomes New Advisor of Adult Learners & Students with Disabilities

The Penobscot Bay Pilot recently reported on the University of Maine Hutchinson Center's new appointment of Patricia Libby to the position of coordinator of instruction and student services. According to the article:
Libby will serve as academic advisor, scholarship coordinator, tutor coordinator, Maine Disability Support Services liaison and facilitator to career center resources. She will also serve the UMaine faculty in instructional technology support for instruction and as a key member of the Lifelong Learning Advising Center team, based in UMaine’s Division of Lifelong Learning in Orono.
According to Associate Dean Virginia Nees-Hatlen, "Libby’s background as a veteran advisor and her strong grounding in social work and instructional technology gives the team — now engaged in recruiting adults who want to finish college degrees — great depth and breadth."
For more information, read the complete article.

York Mom with Dyslexia Advocates for Children with Learning Disabilities

Yesterday's Seacoast Online included the article, "New group aims to lift learning disability stigma." The article focuses on Anne Donnell's role as an advocate and activist who seeks to make public education more welcoming, supportive, and accessible to students with learning disabilities.

Donnell was a student in the York school system herself and was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult. When she saw her child struggling in familiar ways, she sought out diagnosis and support for her daughter.

From the article:
Donnell is on a mission to reach out to children and adults who struggle with dyslexia or other learning challenges to reduce the stigma, through in-class support and presentations, and monthly forums at the York Public Library.
"It's difficult to change the system itself," Donnell said. "But we can change the environment we learn in. Learning institutions shape our confidence as we grow up. We have the option to make kids walk into school every day and not feel ashamed."
By promoting conversations with students and parents, Donnell said she hopes to create a system where students advocate for one another, and parents aren't ashamed to admit their own struggles.
"Giving parents, students and schools a platform to speak from empowers them," Donnell said.
The article ends with this information: "Donnell will host her next meeting at York Public Library, 15 Long Sands Road, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12. For information, e-mail Donnell at"

To read about other learning disability resources in Maine, see our post on Project DEBUNK.

Morrison Ctr in Scarborough Sells Poinsettias Grown by People with Developmental Disabilities

NECN in southern Maine recently aired the story, "Developmentally disabled Maine Adults growing poinsettias for holidays." The web version, which launches an autoplay video of the news story, can be found here.

Quoting Seedling program director, Kevin Kearns, the story says, in part:

Consumers who buy their plants from the non-profit are getting a good value. For under $20, they take home locally grown, pesticide-free poinsettias.
And these symbols of Christmas carry a powerful message.
"We get so hung up with the shopping and purchasing this time of year," reflects Kearns. "The real wealth in my mind is the ability to touch people's lives and to connect with the community. What I see here at the center every day is just that."
In this greenhouse, both plants and people and nurtured.
Read or watch the story at

Disability Employment PSA Discussion Guide Available in English, Spanish, & DVD

The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) recently announced the availability of a discussion guide to accompany the “Because” public service announcement (PSA) distributed earlier this year.

The “Because” PSA has a simple but significant message—that youth with disabilities, like all youth, should grow up expecting to work and succeed, and parents, educators and other adults of influence in their lives should reinforce this expectation at every turn.  The new discussion guide—which comes with a DVD containing the PSA—can be used to facilitate a conversation about this important topic among adults or youth in a variety of settings.  Free of charge, it is available in both English and Spanish.

The "What Can You Do -- Because" PSA can also be viewed on youtube with open captions.

The CDE is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  To order a “Because” discussion guide, as well as associated posters and other materials, visit ODEP’s publications order webpage.  To learn more about the CDE, visit the CDE website

Friday, November 22, 2013

Legislative Action: Nursing Home, Hospice, and Medical Marijuana

Special report by Michael Reynolds for Ability Maine

Contact your Representative and Senator today about legislation being
voted on soon at the Legislative Council
Appeals Meeting.

NOTE: The vote was originally scheduled for yesterday, November 21, but it was delayed, so you still have time to call!

Find out who your legislators are and how to contact them at:

If the legislator representing your town IS a member of the
Legislative Council,* it is very important that they hear directly
from you, their constituent, about how they plan to vote at the
November 21st Appeals meeting.

If your legislator IS NOT a member of the Legislative Council, ask
them to contact members of the Council about these bills before
November 21st.

Call your legislator (not too early or late in the day.)

If you can talk to your legislator in person that's even better.

If you are unable to speak to them directly, you can send an email,
facebook message, or text message to your Representative and Senator
and let them know:

1) Your name, your town, and briefly why this issue is important to you.

2) Ask your legislator to Support LR 2491, An Act Relating to Nursing
Home and Hospice Patients and Medical Marijuana Use.

This bill, sponsored by Senator Lachowicz of Waterville, would ensure
that patients in a hospice or nursing facility could safely access
doctor-recommended marijuana for medical use.

The legislation would not expand Maine's medical marijuana law. It
would not require a nursing facility to allow marijuana use, but it
would allow facilities the discretion on whether to and would not
allow smoking in nursing facilities.

It would restore the intent of Maine's patient-centered law that has
been in place since 1999, by removing unnecessary restrictions created
by DHHS rule changes in December 2012 that are preventing hospice and
nursing facilities from allowing medical use of marijuana in any form.

Before the Department changed its rules in 2012, a patient in a
facility was allowed to receive doctor-recommended marijuana for
medical use, in the form of tincture, edibles, inhaled through a
vaporizer, or in a medicated salve, to help with pain, nausea, sleep,
and other medical conditions. The rules have the greatest impact on
patients going through chemotherapy or in their last weeks of life.

The new rules require the hospice or nursing facility to register with
the State as a medical marijuana caregiver, which threatens their
ability to receive federal funding.

One of the most critical needs of the Maine medical marijuana
community is to ensure access to people going through chemotherapy and
those at the end of life.

Patients in Maine hospice and nursing facilities have been allowed to
access medical marijuana since 1999, when Maine's first medical
marijuana law was enacted.

From the beginning, these patients have been the backbone of Maine's
medical marijuana legislative heritage.

The bill will ensure that nursing facilities can safely ensure that
patients who are in the most pain and most in need of the benefits of
marijuana for medical use are able to access their doctor-recommended

3) Ask your legislator to Oppose LR 2329, An Act To Align Maine's
Marijuana Laws with the Guidelines Governing Taxation and Regulation
Issued by the Federal Government.

This bill, sponsored by Representative Russell of Portland, closely
resembles last year's bill to allow large-scale commercial marijuana
businesses by creating a costly new regulatory system that favors
large out-of-state investors at the expense of local caregivers.

The new bill would increase spending on unnecessary enforcement
schemes and is being rushed for approval without key stakeholder

LD 2329 does not providing needed protections for Maine small
businesses or for those people who will continue to face criminal
charges for growing and using marijuana. Time is needed to develop a
good law that generates revenue for the state and benefits as many
Maine people as possible.

4) Thank your Representative or Senator for their time, and let them
know you'll be voting for candidates who support medical marijuana
patients and caregivers in the November 2014 elections.

For more information on these bills, check out:

It's especially important if your Representative or Senator is a
member of the Legislative Council, it is especially important that
they hear from you, their constituent.

*The Legislative Council is:

Speaker Mark Eves (North Berwick): 287-1300 /

President Justin Alfond (Portland): 287-1500 /

Senator Troy Jackson (Allagash): 287-1515 /

Senator Anne Haskell (Portland/Westbrook): 287-1515 /

Senator Michael Thibodeau (Winterport): 223-5177 /

Senator Roger Katz (Augusta): (207) 287-1505 /

Representative Seth Berry (Bowdoinham): 287-1430 /

Representative Jeffrey McCabe (Skowhegan): 287-1430 /

Representative Ken Fredette (Newport): 287-1440 /

Representative Alexander Willette (Mapleton): 764-4600 /

More information and contacts for the Council members at:

Poetry in Fall 2013 Breath & Shadow Journal of Disability Literature & Culture

The current issue of Breath & Shadow (Volume 10, Number 4) blows opens with the "Twister," by high school student Abby Ridderhoff. The poem takes on the challenges of mental illness in
a pristine little girl
[which] ripped the daisies
from her hair
The next poetic offerings are three pieces by Akua Lezli Hope -- "Routine," "Dentist Visit," and "I fly into your indifference." The villanelle, "Routine," uses the form to good effect as the hypnotic repetition of the first and third line of the opening stanza carries the reader into the narrator's musings on the slowing of life with a new disability:

I sleep to wake and take my waking slow
I fear my fate in what is no longer there
I get nowhere that I used to go
C.R. Reardon makes his debut in Breath & Shadow with "No Lie," a hip-hop flavored poem primed with rhymes. The piece takes on sex, sexism, and pity -- leavened by humor and playfulness with lines like these:
Go ahead, show off your lexicon
With words like “lexicon”.  Tell her
How King Kong ain’t got shit on you; that will
Make her weepy, all touchy-feely.  Take her
To your room, go boom boom or do what you do,
And say tutaloo.  
Maine resident Carol Mackey contributes two poems to the current issue of Breath & Shadow. "Differences" and "Life's Friends," the latter using the metaphor of walking in another's shoes to connect with the reader:

You have walked in my shoes,the festering blister,the too tight arch....
The birds have no voices,dogs do not bark.

Anchoring the poetry in this edition of the literary journal is Cody Vander Clute's "Choosing Between the Long Jump and the Short Drop." A fast-paced sensual poem, rich with sensory detail, each stanza reveals a surprise as the narrator decides whether to take a lover home that night:
does he want to knowifnot having the signs fortalking with me will stopthe mystical unionof being wet and sticky
Read the diverse and delicious poems in the current edition of Breath & Shadow!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hundreds of Maine Students Physically Restrained or Secluded, Report Finds

by Sharon Wachsler

Thanks to a new law requiring schools to report data on instances of physical restraint or isolation/seclusion of Maine students, there are now numbers on how many Maine students are being dealt with in these ways. The Kennebec Journal reports that out of 92 public school districts, there were 3,752 instances of physical restraint and 1,405 instances of seclusion.

According to the article, restraint "is defined as using physical force to move a student or keep the student somewhere against their will," and seclusion "is  defined as a student involuntarily being alone in a specific space".

Perhaps more telling for Ability Maine readers, a much smaller number of special education programs reported data, but the numbers were twice as high: 7,923 instances of restraint and 1,477 of seclusion. This means that disabled students are much more likely to be restrained or secluded. Indeed, this point is made in the article by disability rights advocates:
"These are potentially dangerous interventions and they're not effective in reducing behaviors," said Atlee Reilly, staff attorney for the Maine Disability Rights Center, which has advocated for parents and students. "I think people should be asking some questions about these numbers." Reilly said the new data is not specific enough to allow conclusions. He said a large number of incidents in a district might be concentrated at a particular school, and within a particular program.
That is the case in Lewiston, which had the highest numbers for a school district. The district has a day treatment center for special-needs students in one of its schools, which skewed the numbers because they are reported "by building."
Superintendent Bill Webster said that of the 449 instances of physical restraint reported in the district, 359 were at the day treatment center.
It is also noteworthy that the number of students being restrained or secluded is small in comparison to the number of instances. In other words, of those students who are secluded or restrained, it seems to happen to them repeatedly. For example, in the day treatment programs (which have the higher numbers of instances of restraint and seclusion), between 105 and 145 students were secluded a total of 1,477 times. This puts the average number of seclusions around nine or ten times per student. For restraints in the same population, 7,923 instances of restraint occurred among 523 and 571 students, bringing the average number per student to between 13 and 14 times. These numbers support Reilly's argument that these methods are not effective in modifying future instances of behavior that staff find "out of control."

To read more on this topic, including parent advocates speaking out and the Department of Education's take on it, please visit

Kennebec Journal Says VA Disability Backlog Is Too Big; Maine Office's Ranking Notwithstanding

A previous post, Maine VA's 38% Disability Backlog Second in US, reported on the Central Maine Sentinel praising the Togus regional office for having the second-lowest backlog in the nation. However, the editors at the Kennebec Journal are not cheering.

The Kennebec Journal ran an editorial yesterday headlined, "Our Opinion: On disability claims, Togus is better than most, but not good enough":

As of Veterans Day, more than 400,000 disability applicants have been waiting more than 125 days for an answer from the federal government. That’s more than 400,000 veterans, many recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, waiting too long for compensation related to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other health issues.
Maine’s Togus office has the second-lowest rate of backlogged claims, 38.4 percent, behind the 32.6 percent rate of the Sioux Falls, S.D., office. However, eight regional offices report more than 65 percent of their claims are more than 125 days old, including the worst offenders, Baltimore (71.7 percent) and Houston (68.2 percent).
The Journal reported that one Afghan war veteran who waited over two years for his disability claim to be processed called the VA's suicide hotline on several occasions. While the number of people waiting has been reduced since publicity has brought the situation to light, hundreds of thousands of US veterans are still waiting for the disability pay that was promised them when they enlisted.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Project DEBUNK -- Maine's Dyslexia Youth Resource

Project DEBUNK, a resource for youth with dyslexia and their families and educators, got some press in October when Governor LePage planned a trip to visit the organization.

But the Project has a lot more going on than a trip from the governor. DEBUNK stands for "Dyslexia Educational Bandwagon, Uniting Noteworthy Kids," and Carmel organization offers workshops, support, resources, tutoring, CEUs for educators, and more. DEBUNK declares on its web page:
Project DEBUNK is here to give Maine families, teachers, schools and others a place to go for truthful information about what dyslexia is, to debunk the myths still surrounding what dyslexia is not, and to support dyslexics through education, understanding, special group activities and tutoring.
Visit Project DEBUNK Dyslexia Center on Facebook or on their website,

Maine VA's 38% Disability Backlog Second-Best in US

A November 8, article in the Central Maine Sentinel reports that Maine is second only to South Dakota in terms of the number of disability claims backlogged by the Veteran's Benefits Administration in the state. In Maine, the backlog -- defined as pending for 125 days or more -- is 38 percent of cases. The only office that's doing better is South Dakota's Sioux Falls' office, which has a 33 percent backlog.

This data is gaining attention due to President Obama's decision to try to eliminate VA disability benefits backlogs by 2015. According to the Sentinel article
Federal data compiled by the McClatchy newspapers this week said 38 percent of claims processed by the Togus regional office of the Veterans Benefits Administration are backlogged.... The national average, McClatchy reported, is still 58 percent. So the federal government has plenty of work to do to eliminate backlogs by 2015, a promise made earlier this year that veterans’ groups have been supportive, yet skeptical of.
The rest of the article focuses on skepticism among disabled veterans' groups about the VA being able to eliminate the backlog, Togus officials discussing their accuracy rate, and the backdrop of the national attention on the VA backlog. 

Maine has a disproportionately high number both of Veterans and of people with disabilities, so the process for Veterans to get disability benefits in the state is particularly important. No mention is made that a 38 percent backlog means that more than one-third of all disability cases take in excess of four months to process.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Maine News Stories Supporting Disability Employment

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and there were a flurry of news stories in Maine at the end of the month focused on the positives of employing people with disabilities. 

On October 21, WCSH, Channel 6, the NBC affiliate in Portland, ran  [Note: Link autoplays video] "Businesses Urged to Hire Qualified Workers with Disabilities," a TV news segment focusing on Proctor & Gamble's decision to stop outsourcing some of its work to New Jersey and to keep it in Maine, instead, by hiring workers with disabilities. The program highlighted Maine's declining birth rate and increasingly aging population as an important reason to tap into the resource of the disabled workforce.

Three days later, Jeanne Paquette, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, wrote a guest article for the Portland Press Herald's "Maine Voices" column on the benefits of hiring disabled people. "Employers have much to gain by hiring people with disabilities" also referenced Maine being "the oldest state in the nation," but went on to focus on the success of the state's vocational rehabilitation program in placing people with disabilities in a wide range of jobs, from retail chains to information technology. After Commissioner Paquette tooted her Department's horn, she appealed to employers directly to hire people with disabilities, pointing out the benefits to employers of doing so:
More businesses need to educate themselves about the benefits of hiring a worker with a disability and then do it. Many employers hold a mistaken impression that hiring a person with a disability is expensive or that resources are not available to support the person once they begin working. Let me dispel these stereotypes.
Hiring or retaining workers with disabilities is an excellent investment in a company’s human assets. Research shows that people with disabilities are both loyal employees and loyal customers. These workers value the relationship and the investment a business makes in them. For the minority of workers with disabilities who need special equipment or an accommodation, 56 percent of these adaptations cost less than $600, with many costing nothing. Available tax incentives help businesses cover accessibility costs, and businesses can qualify for work opportunity tax credits for hiring people with disabilities.
 Paquette ended her post with this call to action:
Turn “I can’t hire someone with a disability” into “I’m so glad I did!” by calling 1-855-ALL-HIRE or visiting Make a great investment in your workforce.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nov. 15, So. Portland: Specialized Housing Information Session

Specialized Housing, Inc., which creates supportive housing opportunities for adults with disabilities in New England, is holding a meeting and discussion on November 15 at the South Portland Community Center.

According to their website: "Families in Maine are gathering to discuss starting a new program based on the success of 20 E Street in South Portland. Contact Mary Chris Semrow for more information by email or phone at 207-712-0289."

Information provided by Semrow on the Ability Maine Facebook page:

Housing Information Session - South Portland, Maine - Specialized Housing, Inc.
November 15, 2013 - 6:00 PM - South Portland Community Center.
Learn about Specialized Housing, Inc., and their supported housing programs in Massachusetts and Maine. Join a group of families interested in starting a new program in the Portland, Maine area. RSVP to Mary Chris Semrow at

Panel on Maine's Mental Health System Focuses on "Public Safety"

by Sharon Wachsler

Last night a panel was held at the University of Maine, Augusta, on the state's mental health system. According to an October 31, Sentinel article by Susan McMillan, the scheduled facilitator was Senator Roger Katz of Augusta, and the event was spurred by an incident at Riverview Psychiatric Center:
...where a patient seriously injured an employee in the spring. The hospital, which is the state’s only mental health facility for patients who commit crimes, stands to lose an estimated $20 million in federal funding because of problems with governance, overcrowding and safety.
Panelists include various government and agency representatives and administrators, along with Helen Bailey of the Maine Disability Rights Center. Conspicuously lacking in the lineup were panelists who are consumers of the mental health system, themselves.

Overall, the article -- and seemingly the panel -- focuses on mental illness as a public safety concern. This fearmongering that people with mental illness are dangerous is in direct conflict with the data which show that people with mental health issues are no more likely to commit violent crimes than those with no diagnosed mental illness, and that people with psychiatric diagnoses are, in fact, much more likely to be victims of violence.

I could not find any articles about the panel after the fact. It is to be hoped that stereotyping and fearmongering did not carry the day. (If you attended or participated in the panel or have a link to an article reporting on the panel, please comment or drop us a line.)

Blind Advocates Educate Employers, Attempt to Reduce Employment Discrimination

A recent Associated Press article that appeared in the Portland Press Herald focuses on the obstacles to employment for blind and low-vision people in the United States. Titled "Employers Still Wary of Blind Jobseekers," the article follows a Boston-area woman to a job fair for blind and disabled people. Having turned down a blind man for a job when she was sighted and working in human resources, she understands the problem of the gross underemployment of blind people -- only 24 percent of blind people had full-time employment in 2011 -- from both sides.

This is a relatively in-depth and unusually honest piece about ableist employment discrimination, the particular advantages of hiring blind workers (who are unusually loyal to their employers and hardworking, according to the article), and the efforts blind advocates are making in turning the tide.

Read the article, "Employers still wary of blind jobseekers" in the Portland Press Herald.

Dept of Transportation Requires Airlines to Increase Accessibility, Fines Airline for Lack of Wheelchair Access

According to an Associated Press article released on Monday, several new regulations by the US Department of Transportation are designed to make air travel more accessible to people with disabilities. The rulings involve improving accessibility of airline websites and automated kiosks that provide boarding passes and luggage tags. Folding manual wheelchairs will also be more readily transported on passenger flights.

The AP article also covers DOT's million-dollar fine of US Airways for failing to provide accessibility to its physically disabled travelers. DOT levied the fine after reading 300 complaints from disabled passengers.

Read the AP article here or here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Do You Know about

Last year, emailed Ability Maine to tell us about one of their highlighted series of articles. At that time, had been around for 10 years, yet I think most people with disabilities online have never heard of it. If you're not familiar with the website, here's what they have to say about themselves: ( is the federal government website for comprehensive information on disability programs and services in communities nationwide. Individuals with disabilities, their families, caregivers and others are connected to thousands of resources from federal, state and local government agencies; academic institutions; and nonprofit organizations. New information is added daily across 10 main subject areas – Benefits; Civil Rights; Community Life; Education; Emergency Preparedness; Employment; Health; Housing; Technology and Transportation.

Are You Following Ability Maine on Social Media?

If you are on Twitter or Facebook, you might want to follow or "Like" Ability Maine because some material that does not get posted on our blog — for example, links to newspaper articles about topics relating to disabilities and Maine — is posted on our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Visit us: Ability Maine on Twitter or Ability Maine on Facebook.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Maine Has Highest Rate of Workplace Injuries in US; Nursing Homes Are Riskiest Maine Jobs

By Sharon Wachsler

According to a recent report, the state of Maine has the highest rate of serious workplace injuries of any state in the US. The report, "Allsup Study of Workplace Injuries," examines workplace injury rates by location, by type of work/industry — including private sector versus public sector, and by state.

The study was conducted and issued by Allsup, a company that provides representation to people applying for Social Security disability and other forms of disability benefits. [PDF] Data was collected for the year 2011. The number of illness and injury cases at work that required job transfer or restriction in Maine in 2011 was 6200, while there were 14,400 SSDI claims made in the same year.

The measurement of the [PDF] most dangerous workplaces was determined by reports of rates of injuries that were "serious enough to involve days of job transfer or restriction," per 100 full-time workers. The most dangerous workplaces in Maine were singled out as: state- or government-owned nursing and residential-care facilities (with the state rate of 7.1 injuries per 100 workers as compared to the US average of 1.2 for that industry), warehousing and storage (5.2 versus the national average of 2.7), private nursing-care facilities (5.1 versus 2.6), building material and garden equipment and supplies retailers (4.9 versus 2.7).

The fact that "nursing home facilities" and "community care facilities for the elderly" were [PDF] two of the 10 most dangerous industries nationwide — and both of which Maine is among the highest rates of injury for workers — is a disturbing finding. This suggests that not only are the [PDF] residents of such facilities often in danger of serious physical harm, but so are their caretakers, facts which seen very likely to be related.

From ADAPT ( "Our long term care system has a heavy institutional bias. Every state that receives Medicaid MUST provide nursing home services, but community based services are optional. Sixty seven (67%) percent of Medicaid long term care dollars pay for institutional services, while the remaining thirty three (33%) must cover all the community based waivers, optional programs, etc."

It seems to me that one of the best ways to support worker safety and the rights and safety of people with disabilities is to support more independent and community living, instead of relying on the nursing home industrial complex. Which would allow both people with disabilities and care workers more options for safe, sustainable, and enriching living and working opportunities.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Temple Grandin at Autism/Asperger's Conference, Portland, Fri 9/27

From Des Flynn:

Future Horizons’ upcoming Autism/Asperger's Conference in Portland on Friday, September 27 at the Abromson Center, featuring three expert speakers, including Dr. Temple Grandin, the noted scientist who has autism and the author of The Autistic Brain 
Dr. Grandin will be giving a brand new presentation about the DSM-5’s impact on the autism world and the implication of removing Asperger’s, which will change diagnosis and treatment options forever!  
Other speakers are Jennifer Mcllwee Myers, an accomplished writer who has Asperger's Syndrome and the author of How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's and Dr. Jim Ball, a highly experienced, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and president/CEO of JB Autism Consulting, who discusses behavioral intervention for young learners, and is the author of Early Intervention & Autism. 
Throughout the conference there will be an extensive resources/book table available, as well as excellent networking opportunities with other local parents/caregivers, therapists, counselors, special ed teachers, psychologists, etc., within the various ASD/SPD related communities.  
Future Horizons is offering a 10 percent discount off of their regular conference prices for registrations booked online, by phone, fax, or mail.  Use coupon code TGCONF when registering to receive the discount.  (This special discount can't be combined with any other discounts or offers.)  
For more information about the conference, CEUs, to register, etc., please visit Future Horizons’ website or call them at 800-489-0727.

Please spread the word! And thanks to Des Flynn for sharing this info with Ability Maine!

Leeds Woman Alleges Job Discrimination due to Hearing Impairment

According to an August 31, Bangor Daily News story, Agnes Farnsworth was let go of her seventeen-year volunteer job for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program when she requested that she receive communication via text message instead of phone, due to her hearing loss.
In March 2011, Farnsworth asked to receive text messages on her agency-provided cellphone instead of calls, due to her hearing loss, when instructions were relayed to her about passenger pickups and drop-offs.
That form of communication was used for two weeks then stopped. The agency’s transportation manager sent her a letter telling Farnsworth she was fired because “communication between staff and yourself (sic) has become almost impossible in regards to phone conversations and that is a very important part of our process,” according to a report filed by Michele Dion, an MHRC investigator.
Farnsworth's claim is being investigated by the Maine Human Rights Commission. Read the complete story at BDN Maine.

GROW Grassroots Organizing Workshops 9/27-29

If you are planning to come or curious/interested but need more information, contact Jacqui, Iggy, or Larry (contact info below). 
Registration information is below. This should be a great weekend, with a wide variety of people from around Maine and beyond, so we hope you can be there! Just reply to and type in contact information or register on the web site.

GROW New England's
Sept. 27-29, 2013
Bryant Pond 4-H Camp
Bryant Pond, ME
(near Bethel and Paris/Norway)

For New and Experienced Grassroots Organizers in Maine, NH, and Vermont to Learn More about Creating Grassroots Social Change

(You can register simply by typing in the information requested and replying to, or go to
Name: _________________________
Address: _______________________
Town/City: _____________________
State & Zip: ____________________
Phone #: _(_____)________________
E-Mail: ________________________

Please Complete All That Apply:

___Number of people registering for the Sept. 27-29 Weekend
Enclosed is $___________________
Partial Payment is OK; remainder due on arrival. Checks payable to: ROSC: Address is below. Paying the entire amount when you arrive is also an option, but paying some before the weekend is helpful.

Childcare register by Sept. 20th
___I need childcare: Please list ages of children. _____________________

Ride Share:
___I need a ride from _____________
___I can offer a ride from__________

Please note special accommodations required (diet, health, sleeping, etc.) ________________________________

Return form by September 25th, if possible, to: GROW, 161 Stovepipe Alley, Monroe, ME 04951 or E-mail it to

For questions & more info:
Iggy: 207-415-4458,
Larry, 207-525-7776,
Jacqui, 207-284-3358,

Why GROW New England?
(GrassRoots Organizing Workshops)

We believe in a better world where there is:
●Respect for civil liberties;
●Commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution;
●Economic justice and rights for all;
●Affordable health care, housing and education;
●A healthy environment & sustainable lifestyles;
●Celebration of diversity in age, race, gender, etc.

In order to create a world that provides for the well-being of everyone, we have to ORGANIZE!
In order to take back our power we have to ORGANIZE!
In order to ORGANIZE we need to gather, learn, share and plan with each other!

Join new and experienced activists from northern New England as we:
● Learn and teach about the “big picture” of social change.
● Gain new organizational skills/strategies.
● Learn about successful models throughout the region.
● Celebrate successes.

GROW Weekend Schedule
Introductory Friday Workshop
Friday, September 27th, 1:00-4:30 PM
Making a Difference: Skills for the Effective Organizer
This workshop provides basic skills and background for anyone who is new or relatively new to organizing. Good reminder and refresher for more experienced organizers as well.

Weekend Schedule
5:00 PM Friday, September 27th to 2:30 PM Sunday, September 29th
Cost $10-$80 (actual cost is about $70-80/person, but pay what you can/all welcome, whatever amount you can pay) includes lodging (bring bedding), meals, all workshops, and use of outdoor facilities. In addition to workshops (see list), GROW will use interactive methods to help attendees develop skills in planning actions/events, creating groups, and becoming better organizers. For a complete schedule and updated workshop offerings, please contact those below. Information will be added when confirmed, especially in September:

Nate “Iggy” Brimmer (207) 415-4458
Larry Dansinger (207) 525-7776
Jacqui Deveneau (207) 284-3358


This year's GROW Theme is: “Organizing Strategies”

Workshop Topics
Tentatively Include:
Strategy Development
Power Analysis
Skills Share
Overcoming oppression and celebrating inclusiveness
Listening and storytelling to identify the issues
Influencing Public Policy

Accessibility: Facilities are totally wheelchair accessible.

Child Care: Childcare will be available at no cost, during workshop times only. Those requesting childcare must register by September 20th.

Food: Meals will emphasize local foods and will offer meat, vegetarian and vegan options. We can make individual adjustments as needed. Meals (and housing) are included in registration costs. Attendees will be asked to help with meal preparation or cleanup.

Travel arrangements: Call/email a contact person for ride sharing options.

Registration: We encourage people to register by September 25th to help with meal and travel planning, though last minute registrations will be accepted. Registration details and directions will be e/mailed after you register.

For questions & more info:
Iggy: 207-415-4458,
Larry, 207-525-7776,
Jacqui, 207-284-3358,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Maine Law Allows More Disabled Veterans to Hunt, Fish For Free

picture  of a large white tailed deer buck with huge antlers standing on a Prairie of dried grasses. To the left and below it says, "Get information about hunting in Maine.."
Image from Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

Multiple news outlets reported earlier this week on a new state law that will allow more disabled veterans to hunt and fish for free. The bill was introduced by Rep. Wilson (R-Augusta) and was signed into law by Gov. LePage last week.

The law will allow Mainers will have a 50 percent or more disability rating from Veterans Affairs to hunt, fish, or trap without having to pay the license fee. Previously, only veterans with a 70 or 100 percent disability rating were able to obtain free licenses.

Veterans make up a disproportionately large number of both the state population and its population of people with disabilities, so this is likely to affect significant number of people.

This story was reported on by WCSH Channel 6, the Portland Press Herald, and WABI TV.

New England GrassRoots Organizing Workshops Sept. 27-29 in Bryant Pond, Maine

From ROSC (Resources for Organizing for Social Change), Ability Maine's parent organization…

Save the Date: Tenth annual GROW (GrassRoots Organizing Workshops) New England Weekend

September 27-29, 2013 

Bryant Pond 4-H Camp in Bryant Pond (on Christopher Lake in western Maine)

Learn and hone organizing strategies, enjoy beautiful surroundings and healthy food, network with old friends and meet new ones with similar interests.

Workshops will focus on strategies for social change:
*Campaign Development
*Skills Share
*Listening and Storytelling
*Overcoming Oppressions
*Power Analysis
*Influencing Public Policy
*Organizing 101
*and more.

Cost on a sliding scale basis ($10-80) so all can attend.

Ask for a brochure and/or register by mail, phone, email, or on the ROSC website.

For more information, contact:
Jacqui at 284-3358 or
Iggy at 415-4458 or
Larry at 525-7776 or
or — click on Projects to register

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gov. LePage and House Republicans Tell 69,500 Low-Income Mainers: No Health Insurance Yet

Below is the text of an email from Jennifer Lunden, Maine healthcare activist, writer, and social worker, whom we recently profiled. She played a very active role in the "Cover Maine Now" campaign and is reporting on the most recent developments and what you can do to affect the future outcome of the situation.

From: Jennifer Lunden LCSW, LADC, CCS

Dear Everyone:

You may have already heard the terrible news. The Maine House was not able to get the two thirds majority needed to override Governor LePage's veto of LD 1066, the act to bring federally funded health insurance to 69,500 low-income Mainers. The vote went strictly down party lines. I believe we were just two votes short. It was a valiant effort by our state's Democrats; and by Cover Maine Now--a coalition that includes many organizations, including my agency, the Center for Creative Healing; and by people like you. 

On Wednesday, 45 Mainers dropped everything on a day's notice and lined the halls all the way from the House chambers to the Senate, holding signs saying "Cover Maine Now," and handing out placards quoting testimony from people all over the state. But in the end, all of our efforts weren't enough to convince Republicans to break rank from our embarrassment of a governor, who made national news for his latest blunder. (Here's Rachel Maddow's hilarious take on our not so hilarious situation here in the state of Maine.)

So. What now?

The good news is that the campaign to bring federal funds to Maine is not over. From Cover Maine Now
"Although approximately 25,000 low-income Mainers may lose their health care coverage and 45,000 will remain uninsured as of January 1, 2014, we can limit the harm by urging our elected representatives to enact legislation that would accept the funds next year. This is why we need to continue our fight and we need to reach out to our lawmakers to hold them accountable for their final votes following the Governor’s veto."  
It is important to raise awareness about the vote and to encourage people to share their views with legislators. Please use social networking to do this, and consider sending a letter to the editor.

And from Cover Maine Now, here's another idea:

Please thank your Representative if he/she voted to cover more Mainers through MaineCare, or tell your Representative you’re disappointed in his/her vote against LD 1066. 

First – Look up your Representative. Enter your town and residential address and click submit. Then, click on the Elected Officials tab and write down the e-mail addresses of your State Representative (under Maine House of Representatives).

Next - Check how he or she voted on the LD 1066 override.

Then – Copy and paste the e-mail below into a new e-mail message, fill in your legislator’s name and add in your name and contact information… then, send it along to your legislator!

Finally – Spread the word to keep our fight alive. Send this message along to a few friends and encourage them to take action as well.

Thank you!

Send the following message to those who voted YES on LD 1066:

Dear [Your Representative],

Thank you very much for supporting LD 1066, legislation to accept federal funds to provide health care to nearly 70,000 Mainers who need it.  I am disappointed that LD 1066 did not succeed, but I hope that you will continue to advocate for accepting federal funds to expand access to health care.  Every day that we forgo these funds is a day that uninsured Mainers face the possibility of a financially ruinous medical crisis. 

Not only is accepting federal funds the right thing to do for our friends and neighbors, it will help support the Maine economy and our hospitals.  By accepting the federal funds and providing health care coverage through our state Medicaid program, Maine can reduce overall health care costs and save millions of taxpayer dollars being spent treating uninsured people in emergency rooms.  

I hope you will keep working to bring these funds to Maine.  I want our state to have a healthier workforce and a more competitive economy.   

[Your Name]
[Your Address]

Send the following message to those who voted NO on LD 1066:

Dear [Your Representative],

I was very disappointed to hear that you did not support the final vote on LD 1066, legislation to accept federal funds to provide health care to nearly 70,000 Mainers who need it.  Maine people have worked hard to provide for themselves and their families and deserve the opportunity to stay healthy. Every day that we forgo these funds is a day that uninsured Mainers face the possibility of a financially ruinous medical crisis. 

LD 1066 represented a compromise among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents that would have brought generous federal funding to Maine beginning January 1, 2014.  A large majority of Mainers support accepting federal funds to increase access to Medicaid coverage.  Accepting these funds would have saved lives, created more than $350 million in economic activity, created 3,100 jobs and prevented potential tax penalties for large employers.

I hope you will reconsider your position on this issue in the coming months.  Maine needs to focus on policies that will create a healthier workforce, boost our economy, reduce societal costs and keep our state economically competitive.  Accepting federal funds would do just that. 

[Your Name] 
[Your Address]

And finally, I want to say a special thank you to Republican Senators Roger Katz, Patrick Flood, and Tom Saviello, for breaking rank with their party and expressing their support for LD 1066. It is regretful the bill never made it back to the Senate, where they could have continued to stand up and represent the vast majority of Mainers who want healthcare justice in Maine.

We will continue to fight.



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jennifer Lunden on Writing, MCS, Maine Healthcare Activism, and Human Connection

Waking People up and Connecting with All Living Things

Interview with Jennifer Lunden, Maine Healthcare Activist and Award-Winning Writer and Social Worker

By Sharon Wachsler

Interviewing Jennifer Lunden (known to her friends as “Lunden”) has been on my list of things to do for a year. I first got the idea when her essay, which touched on her life with MCS, was published in the literary journal Creative Nonfiction. But before I managed to approach her, the piece had won the Pushcart Prize and Lunden had been named Maine Social Worker of the Year! 

There was always more to ask: during the weeks that we’ve corresponded, conducting this interview, Lunden has been leading the charge in crucial statewide health care activism. In fact, we both wanted to get this piece published this weekend because a year’s worth of her healthcare activism in Maine is coming down to the wire right now. And while Lunden certainly values words and writing, they seem to be most meaningful to her when they empower people to act!

~ ~ ~

Where are you from, and where do you live now?

I was born on the army base in San Antonio, Texas, during the Vietnam War. When I was six, we moved to Peterborough, Ontario, in Canada. In 1989, at the age of 20, I moved to Portland, Maine, and I have been living here ever since. In Canada, where they have universal healthcare, I was healthy. I fell ill within months of moving to the US, where I was uninsured.

A light-skinned woman with green eyes and short brown hair tucked behind her ears smiling so her whole face crinkles up. She's wearing a black blazer and silver necklace. Behind her is a solid background of lush greenery, many different kinds of plants.

How did your being uninsured affect your experience of becoming ill—getting diagnosed, treated, or other aspects of your life?

That is such a great question, Sharon. First of all, as someone who was raised in Canada, the first time I went to the doctor’s here it just felt wrong that I had to hand over a check after the appointment. I’d never had to do that before. And here I was too sick to work, and somehow I needed to find a way to pay a doctor to help me get better. Talk about a Catch-22!

Eventually, I learned I could go to the hospital and apply for a “green card” and get free services at their clinic. Whenever I went to the clinic, it was a long wait and a different doctor every time.

Since those doctors proved incapable of helping me with my chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), I soon turned to alternative treatments. But I was limited in what I could do, because I was so poor.

Eventually, when I went back to school, I used student loans to help pay for my medical care.

How did you become chemically injured?

Everything started with a case of mononucleosis that turned into CFS. Over time, as the fatigue gradually abated, the chemical sensitivity and food allergies got worse and worse. I can’t with certainty pinpoint a specific incident of chemical injury. But I have for a long time suspected that the flea sprays that I used to treat my cats and my apartment—when my immune system was already severely compromised by CFS—triggered the chemical sensitivity. Pesticides are neurotoxins. It is not a great leap of logic to suspect that they damaged my brain.

Your essay, “The Butterfly Effect,” was published in the esteemed literary journal, Creative Nonfiction, in the winter of 2011. Most of the piece was about monarch butterflies—their transition from caterpillar to butterfly, their migration, and their dwindling numbers due to habitat destruction, climate change, and other environmental damage caused by humans. However, woven throughout the essay are tidbits about how your multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) affected your pilgrimage to study and experience the monarchs and their migration. 

When did you get the idea for this piece? How long did it take you to write it?

In early winter 2007, I was thinking about my predisposition toward seasonal affective disorder, and how much it helps to go someplace warm and sunny in the middle of winter, and I started to fantasize about a trip to California. I decided to take a storytelling workshop at the Esalen Institute. And then, as I began dreaming of California, it dawned on me that I could realize a lifelong dream and go and see the monarchs that migrate to various sites there. And then I decided to write about the monarchs. When you tell people you are a writer working on a story, sometimes they grant you special privileges. In this case, I wanted to tag monarchs, something I’d dreamed of doing since I was a little girl.

I began researching online, and that is where I learned about Pacific Grove, aka Butterfly Town, USA, and the Butterfly Lady, aka Ro Vaccaro. When I listened to “A Woman’s Metamorphosis into ‘the Butterfly Lady’” on All Things Considered, I had to meet her! I wasn’t able to find online contact information for her, but I did find a friend of hers, who gave me her mailing address. She told me the Butterfly Lady was in a convalescent home and in very poor health, but that she would probably love to meet me. So I mailed her a letter. Unfortunately, she died two days before I was supposed to meet her.

Lunden standing outside on a wooden porch at the same height as the treetops which are all around her. She's smiling very widely and holding out her hands with her fingers spread.
Lunden in California, just an instant after a butterfly took flight from her fingers.

I always say my illness made me an environmentalist. I thought I could find a way to tie together my experience of MCS with the story of the declining monarchs. I’ve always loved immersion journalism, since first reading David Foster Wallace’s essays in Harper’s. So I decided I would write about my experience flying to California to see the monarchs while coping with MCS.

A wonderful side benefit is that the storytelling workshop changed my life. In that five-day workshop, I transformed from someone with a core belief that nobody wanted to hear what she had to say into a storyteller. I suppose you could call it a metamorphosis.

As for how long it took. . . Oh, God. I am a slow writer. It probably took me three-plus months of committed writing on weekends, every chance I could get. And then when it got accepted, there were more weekends devoted to rewrites.

As I was reading your piece I was remembering the fields of milkweed at the community garden where my father gardened when I was a kid. I didn’t know that milkweed was so essential to monarch butterflies nor that it was being eradicated by herbicides, development, and industrial farming. I tried to remember if I had any milkweed around my yard, and if not, I thought, “How can I get some and plant it?” And then the answer was in your essay:
sells milkweed seeds so people can make their yards “monarch waystations.” Were you hoping, by writing this piece, to move more people to help the monarchs?

To me, we and the monarchs—and all the creatures on this earth—are inextricably intertwined. John Muir, the naturalist who founded the Sierra Club, said, “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.” So when I wrote “The Butterfly Effect” I was just hoping to wake people up. I thought people might not want to hear about my illness, but who wouldn’t want to hear about the beautiful butterflies? I believed the beauty and lyricism of the butterflies would make my message more palatable. I wanted a way to get people to read to the end and get the message. So, yes, I do hope that more people will help the monarchs. Monarch waystations are something fun that people can do. But we also need to fight GMO farming. We need to do that for the monarchs and for ourselves. And we need to take a serious look at our dependence on chemicals. There are other alternatives that are more sustainable.

Not only was your essay published in Creative Nonfiction, but it won the Pushcart Prize and was published in the 2013 edition of the Pushcart anthology. That’s a very big honor and gives your essay an even wider readership. I’m wondering how the MCS aspect of your essay has been received. Have you heard from people who didn’t know about MCS or were skeptics who were affected by your piece?

I love this question, because just a few weeks ago my Google Alert let me know that someone had blogged about “The Butterfly Effect.” Here is how she starts her essay:

I have a confession to make. This will surprise some of you who know me, but I’m afraid this story forces me to admit it, as shameful as it may be, and as hard as I’ve worked in the past to leave this particular part of my personality behind: I’m a bigot. No, not against race or gender or ethnicity or religion or any of the usual factors; I’m prejudiced against people who say things like, “I have multiple chemical sensitivity.”

The author is Karen Carlson, and I appreciate her bravery, and her transformation. Carlson confesses that she feels a little shamed by my essay, and a little resistant, but determines to explore her own resistance:

A selfish and quite bratty reaction to the lack of sympathy I receive for my own sensitivities, both those diagnosed and those merely evident? Guilt over the multiple cleaning products in my kitchen and my dissatisfaction with the baking-soda-and-orange-peel solution to everything?

She admits she is ashamed of her attitude, and says that the essay carries an important message about what we are doing to our habitat. “The canaries, the butterflies, Lunden, are all warning signs.”

I was so happy when I read this blog. Carlson is doing exactly what I hope the readers of this essay will do. She is recalibrating her preconceptions and recognizing something important about what we are doing to our environment, and therefore to ourselves.

I came across that blog post when I was preparing for this interview, but I had a very different reaction to it. I thought the blogger harped on about how she wanted to be able to distinguish the truly sick from the whiners and fakers. My impression was that she judged you to be a sympathetic person with MCS because she was so captivated by your writing, but that she still views other people with MCS with disdain.

It’s interesting that we had such different responses to that post. When I started reading it, I had expected to come out thinking like you. I had expected to go on a journey of discovery and change with the author, so I was disappointed by her self-professed “brattiness.” I’d love to see your way, though. Care to try to convince me?

It’s interesting to me, Sharon, that we had such different experiences of this piece. I can’t deny the likelihood that because Carlson is directly praising my work it softens me toward her perspective. I can see the sentence that you perhaps find most objectionable. It is when she wonders if part of her defensive initial response to “The Butterfly Effect” is due to “overexposure to the special snowflakes of the world, which makes it difficult to distinguish between those with serious issues and those who use sensitivity as an excuse for everything from irresponsibility to rudeness.”

You see…. I likely just floated on by that statement because she was not including me among those “snowflakes.” As I look at this more closely, I am curious about her experiences with sensitive people, and particularly her experience of rudeness, and what does irresponsibility mean, exactly, in this context?

Yes, a lot of judgment there. But I know if I didn’t have this illness, I would be judgmental, too. I would think MCS is a psychological problem, not a physiological condition. All a writer could want from such a reader is a beginning of a transformation.

I suspect that Carlson will be more open-minded toward the next chemically sensitive person she meets—even if she is still triggered by “the special snowflakes of the world.” I find it intriguing that she alludes to her own sensitivities and the lack of sympathy she receives for them. It makes me think of the Jungian idea of the shadow self—the part that we have learned to hide because it’s not socially acceptable in our families or our culture. Of course, it’s not socially acceptable to be sick. We challenge people to face something about life that makes them uncomfortable. Our illnesses challenge us in the same way.

What effect have these honors had on you or your writing process?

I don’t know that it has changed my writing or my writing process, but it has bolstered my trust in my approach and in my competence as a writer. Also, now when I tell people I am a writer, I feel legit. That is pretty awesome. Getting this essay published, and to such accolades, was like my coming out ball as a writer. It has begun to open some doors, as well, which is nice.
This past year, 2012, was a very big year for you—not only did you receive one of the highest honors for a North American essayist, but in October of 2012 you were also named Maine’s 2012 Social Worker of the Year by the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Can you tell me what you did to earn that award? 

When Governor Paul LePage and his Republican-dominated legislature wanted to strip MaineCare coverage from 65,000 low-income Mainers, I worried for my clients, and for all the people across the state whose lives would be impacted by these cuts. I emailed my legislators and told them my concerns, but that just didn’t feel like enough. I felt helpless.

One day, it dawned on me there was something more I could do. I decided to write a petition. I called it “Save Healthcare for Low-Income and Disabled Mainers,” and it grew slowly, and then it grew quickly. It was a little like playing the slots every time I hit the refresh button on my computer. People passed it around through email and Facebook, and three weeks later my petition had almost 10,000 signatures.

I hand delivered the petition—which was about four inches thick—to Representative Patrick Flood, who was the Chair of the Appropriations Committee. I had never before been to Augusta. Rep. Flood sat down with me for a few minutes and listened to my concerns.

There was a loud outcry against these cuts, in addition to my petition, and in the end, far fewer cuts were made. Another legislator, Rep. Jon Hinck, told me he had no doubt my petition made a difference.

I think we, the people, have let go of the reins of our democracy. We think we don’t have any power. But when we band together, we have great power. The way to take our country back is for each and every one of us to get involved in some way.

Since we started this interview you’ve taken on another activism project related to healthcare in Maine. This is an issue that you’re trying to get people to mobilize on now to contact their senators and representatives. What’s going on? What can people do to support the effort? And how did you get involved?

Well, Sharon, it’s all still part of the same project. Over 8,000 of those people who signed my petition to save MaineCare are still signed up to receive email updates from me. It’s a writer-activist’s dream! An audience of 8,000-plus! So because I have that audience, I feel a responsibility to keep people informed and to inspire them to act.

Even with Democratic majorities in Maine’s House and Senate, with our tight budget and our veto-happy governor, healthcare access in Maine continues to be at risk. Right now, LD 1066—which would accept federal money to provide health insurance to 69,500 low-income Mainers—just passed the House and the Senate. A similar bill was already vetoed by Governor LePage, and we may not have enough Republican support to get the two-thirds majority we would need to override the governor’s veto. So I am asking people to contact their legislators—especially if their legislators are Republicans—and tell them why it is so important to accept these federal funds.

Readers who would like to be kept apprised of developments related to healthcare access can still sign my petition—it’s not too late—which will get them on my mailing list. They can find it here

In your acceptance speech for the social work award, you encouraged others to contact legislators, write letters to the editor, run for office, and conduct other forms of advocacy. How does activism fit in with being a social worker?

It’s in the social worker Code of Ethics that we challenge social injustice. If all of us did that, I believe the world would be a better place. We have to hold legislators accountable. That means all of us. Not just social workers. Everyone. This is not a time to be complacent. Complacency is what has gotten us into this mess, and strong political action will get us out of it.

What gives you hope?

The Butterfly Lady—even now that she is deceased—gives me hope. When a monarch habitat was threatened, she rallied a town to vote for an increase in taxes so they could buy the property and turn it into a sanctuary.

Monarch waystations give me hope, and so do all the people who are fighting to make the world a better place.

And taking action gives me hope. I don’t want to stand helplessly by.

Where do you find meaning in your life?

At the height of my illness, I struggled terribly with depression. For years and years, I used to wake up in the morning and wonder what the point of it all was. What was the meaning of life? What was the point of getting up in the morning? I was looking for a big answer. But what I’ve found, since the depression has (long) abated, is that the meaning is in the small things.

The other morning in the car on my way to the park with my dog, Mabel, the song “White Lightning,” came on the radio. I used to be in a band that covered that song, and it felt familiar in an especially nostalgic way. So I sang along, and the way George Jones sings, “Whew! White lightning!” is just so silly, and it was so fun to sing along, suddenly I noticed that I was happy. Moments like that—small moments—give life its meaning.

When you get overwhelmed by the big things, by all the things that are going wrong, you have to reconnect to the small things, the things that make us human. Like many people, I was devastated by the shooting at Sandy Hook. One afternoon, as I was driving to a meeting feeling very dark about the world, I listened to a podcast of This American Life. In it, a young Somali woman was practicing her English so that she could go by herself into a coffee shop and order a cup of tea. An American woman was helping her. We hear her practicing nervously, we hear her go in and have to repeat her order, twice, and then we hear her celebrating her success with her American friend.

When I heard that story, something in me filled up again. Such a small story. But such a human story. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about connection. Nothing else. Connection with ourselves, connection with others, connection with all living things, connection with All That Is.