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Honoring Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month at Redeemer Health


March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Redeemer Health’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) program has been part of its mission for years. Maleita M. Olson, LCSW, is the executive director of Redeemer Health’s I/DD services, which currently houses five residents. Here, Maleita answers our questions and teaches us more about I/DD.

Redeemer Health: What does Developmental Disabilities Awareness month mean to you and/or your team?

Maleita: Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month represents an opportunity to share the many contributions that individuals with developmental disabilities (those with disabilities obtained before the age of 22) make in our community and to raise awareness about how the concept of disability has evolved over time. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was to the disability community what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to communities of color. For the first time, people began to understand that persons with disabilities deserved to have equal rights and equal access to everything everyone else has. 

Pennsylvania turned that value into a philosophy, known as Everyday Lives, informing how we all approach the movement toward further inclusion of persons with disabilities into society. Kristen Ehrens, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Developmental Programs, said, “Everyday Lives guides us in our commitment to help create a world that embraces and celebrates human differences, a world in which everyone can experience belonging.” I appreciate the opportunity to partner and interact with the staff and individuals on a regular basis to help make that vision a reality.

To me this month is about helping others recognize that those individuals in our community with developmental disabilities may have special needs, but they have ordinary, “everyday” dreams and desires.

As the Everyday Lives philosophy emphasizes, “an everyday life is about opportunities, relationships, rights, and responsibilities. It is about being a member of the community, having a valued role, making a contribution to society, and having one's rights as a citizen fully respected. It is a vision that we should all be working toward together.”

Redeemer Health: How do your residents celebrate this month?

Maleita: We mark the end of the month with a party, inviting family, friends and members of the community. We take time to reflect on the many accomplishments each person we support has made in the last year and celebrate people that have chosen to work in this field, not just as a job, but as a career.

Redeemer Health: Please tell us more about Redeemer Health’s I/DD program.

Maleita: The Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) program emerged from the hearts of the Sisters of the Redeemer, who were asked repeatedly to support this vulnerable population. In 2017, Redeemer Health opened its first licensed home, Reilly House, serving three individuals with intellectual disabilities. In 2021, we opened our second licensed home, serving an additional three individuals.  Both homes are in close proximity to the main Redeemer Health campus in Huntingdon Valley.

In 2022, we launched a day program to provide structure and community integration activities for the individuals we serve, with a plan for further outreach. These efforts have been supported by a generous grant from Senator Maria Collette, which recently gave us the opportunity to purchase a handicapped accessible van, a specialized interactive learning system, furniture and specialized training for our staff.

Redeemer Health is uniquely situated with health care resources to support this population, maintaining healthy lives and working toward fulfilling their potential. We are working to expand our support to all families touched by disability, including those with loved ones still living at home.

Redeemer Health: What about your work makes you most proud?

Maleita: It is a privilege to journey with people with disabilities and to increase opportunities for them to grow. They encourage me, our team, and those they come in contact with every day to become the very best versions of ourselves. They have so much to teach us about humility, resilience and focusing on the aspects of life that are really important. Many of them have a beautiful love of and faith in God and Jesus, which is contagious. I am proud of seeing the mutual growth that our residents and team inspire in each other.

One of the proudest accomplishments in the last year was creating volunteer opportunities for our individuals to work at Spark and Redeemer Valley Farm. The goal is not for them to just be “in” the community, but “of” the community. The way the community at Spark have embraced and welcomed them truly embodies Redeemer values.

Maleita M. Olson, LCSW, has been executive director of Redeemer Health’s I/DD program since 2020. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in social work, both from Boston College. Maleita is a behavioral specialist, social worker, therapist and consultant.