I would have told them not to gather petition signatures to present to the Town Board objecting to the facility under the theory that it will cost tax revenue, increase traffic and compromise the safety of their own children, because all those reasons are a thin facade for the truth that everyone but they care to admit: fear of the unknown.
I would have told them about the number of people who have objected to facilities just like this over the years, who eventually came to be ashamed of ever suggesting that a house serving special-needs children or people with developmental disabilities would detract from a neighborhood.
I would have taken a few moments to dismiss the validity of their objections, particularly the ones saying the facility will resemble a prison because it will have a fence around it and the repeated references to it as a business. I would tell them that there is a difference between a fence around a house and a wall around a prison and that this will be a business in the same way their house becomes a business when they baby-sit.
I certainly would have let them know that, by law, the only way they are going to prevail in their crusade is to prove that the area is saturated with similar facilities or that this one will significantly alter the neighborhood. I would have informed them that the deck is stacked very much against intolerance and in favor of agencies such as Community Services for the Developmentally Disabled because the need is so great.
If none of that worked, I would have told them that there is a group home around the corner from my house and that, unbeknown to many, there are group homes and respite facilities around the corner from thousands of houses, and the people who live and work in them are about the best neighbors you can hope to have.
If that didn’t convince them, I would have introduced them to my daughter Jessica. I would have asked her to tell them about her job with People Inc., taking care of special-needs teenagers after school Monday through Friday. She would have told them about the smiles on the young men and women she cares for who want nothing more than to be treated with kindness and respect, but who need a little more help than other kids their age.
I would have told them about the day I spent in awe and amazement watching my daughter care for the kids and seeing them respond to her obvious love for all of them. I would have told them about the gratitude that exudes from the kids’ parents to know that they can have a break from the demands of their everyday life and know that their children are safe and in good hands. I would have told them how I nearly burst with pride at the empathy my daughter displays every day.
I also would have told them that the world needs more empathy and less prejudice. And I would have reminded them that it’s never too late to do the right thing, stop signing ill-conceived, misinformed petitions and think of the many ways they can open their minds and their hearts to their new neighbors.