For a year now, my Summer Fellowship supervisor, Don Bashaw, has joked that as a fellow, I failed miserably.
Last summer, I was paired with Add (formerly an acronym for the Association for the Developmentally Disabled) to produce a 10-15 minute film about the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities. Considering I had no real knowledge of the field or of film production, the task was pretty intimidating. When I left Add at the end of last summer, I had created a packet of all the potential steps, of everything I had thought about and everyone I had talked to. But there was no film.
Flash-forward to two weeks ago.
Ten months have passed, during which time I’ve had the pleasure of being part of a workgroup for the film and meeting our filmmakers: students from the Upper Arlington High School’s broadcast television program, led by their inimitable teacher Amanda Fountain and student director Ronald Copley. (The collaboration with UAHS was one of the best – and not initially expected – developments of the project.)
And then at Add’s annual board meeting two weeks ago (held at the Franklin Park Conservatory, where I notice one of this year’s fellows is working,) the film finally premiered: a whopping 17 minutes of footage culled from 3 days of shooting, 4 locations, and at least 24 hours of footage.
Of course, the film isn’t perfect – our work never is. But in certain ways, I know the film is already a success. I saw that in the absolute excitement of the actors with disabilities present at the premiere – in their smiles, the little bows to the audience, the open pride of some and deep modesty of others. I heard it when the Add board member sitting beside me, also a superintendent for a county board of developmental disabilities, said, “We’re starting up a self-advocacy group in my county, and I want to use this.”
With that, I want to say that the Summer Fellowship program is not simply 11 interns and 10 weeks: it is the opportunity for sustained partnerships, the opportunity to finally develop projects long held on the backburner, the opportunity – to loosely paraphrase Add’s slogan – to make something happen.
For Add, the Summer Fellowship allowed them to jumpstart a project that may otherwise never have happened during a year of extreme changes and upheaval (wonderful changes—expansion, rebranding, and redefinition). It proves that Add is the kind of organization that is not simply interested in service but in innovation and new ideas. And for me, the Summer Fellowship program gave me likely the most valuable piece of professional development in my very young career, as well as incredible gratitude toward those I worked with and for.
As a recent college graduate, it is easy for me to view this all as the long-awaited end. Yet, even as I move on – literally, as I move to Providence, RI, in a month where I’ll be working as an Americorps*VISTA for a year in a nonprofit providing free community arts programming – I know that it isn’t really an ending. The ultimate success of the film, of course, will not be in the fact that there is a simple product but what happens now – that it gets into the right hands and homes, that conversations are started among individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and service providers. As the film is copied and distributed to the 900 people that Add supports and is eventually made available for purchase statewide and nationally through an established self-advocacy group, it will be what is said around it, what is done about it, that matters. I know too that it doesn’t really end for me – I take with me all that I learned at Add, including a better understanding and respect for the individuals around me.
So I wish all of this year’s fellows good luck. I sincerely encourage them to take advantage of (and create) opportunities around them and see their time for what it is – a wonderful beginning.
– Anne Shackleford, Add, 2010