Community Matters in ME Fellow Ariye Krassner ’14 Enables the Disabled

 

Ariye Krassner ’14

 

Last summer, Ariye Krassner ’14 had a Preston Fellowship to intern at Preble Street in Portland, working with the city’s homeless population. This summer, she’s again working with some of society’s most vulnerable: people with mental illness, cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities.

Preble Street and Independence Association are similar in some ways: Both agencies help marginalized people integrate into mainstream society. But the organizations have a critical difference that distinguishes them from one another, according to Krassner, who is studying psychology and biology at Bowdoin and is considering a career in psychiatry. “I’m working with people now who I would work with if I stayed in this field. It puts my foot in the door in the field of clinical psychology.”

Krassner has a Community Matters in Maine summer fellowship, from Bowdoin’s McKeen Center, to intern at the Brunswick-based Independence Association. The Community Matters fellowships support Bowdoin students who work for a local organization addressing a community issue.

Battling Stereotypes
In the weak economy, Ariye Krassner says Independence Association has had to contend with curtailed state funding. “This speaks to the fact that people with disabilities aren’t considered a priority,” she said. “The internship has opened my eyes…about how community stigmas can affect organizations that work with disabled individuals.”

Part of Independence Association’s mission is to integrate disabled people in the community to change people’s perceptions of them. “There is a stereotype that they can’t contribute to society,” Krassner said. “Part of community inclusion is to seek job opportunities and volunteer opportunities for them to demonstrate that they can contribute to society.”

This summer, Krassner’s been tasked with a major project at the agency. Early in the internship, she completed a multi-day training to become a certificated DSP, or direct support professional, meaning she is now qualified to provide in-home care for disabled people.

She pursued this certification in order to evaluate the DSP training for Independence Association. “They wanted me to see how accessible the program was to a lot of people and how beneficial it is,” Krassner explained. Independence Association hires some immigrants who speak English as a second language as well as people who have mild disabilities.

The second part of Krassner’s evaluation was to shadow the caretakers as they went about their jobs to see whether the training was relevant to the day-to-day realities of their work. Her evaluation will become part of a national process to revamp the training curriculum.

While this project has meant Krassner has had to remain a step removed from the people Independence Association serves, she said nonetheless she has managed to forge connections with some. In particular, she has promised one elderly man with cerebral palsy and mental retardation that she will continue to visit him after her internship. “He’s a talker, he loves having someone to talk to,” she described. “He showed me his room, his goldfish, his awards and certificates for volunteering and pictures of his friends and family.”

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