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Self-Advocacy Members Honor Lives and Memories at Craig Colony Cemetery
There is a large stone marker at a Craig Colony cemetery in Sonyea, NY, that reads "Dedicated to the lives and memories of all who rest here in peace."
While that stone was not placed on the grounds by Advocates Coming Together (ACT), the Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's organization of self advocates, it drew much attention from the group during their recent visit. This is because the memorial puts into words the sentiments of ACT members as they place flowers near the graves of those who lived in the colony, which served as an institution for people with disabilities until as recently as 1988. Many of the graves are marked only with numbers.
On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, members of ACT potted flowers outside of the Hilltop Industries sheltered workshop on East State Street in Mt. Morris, and then traveled by bus to plant them at the cemetery, which is located just outside of town. It is an annual tradition that began in 2005 as a way for the group to help restore dignity to people buried in institutional cemeteries, with no name plates or dates of death.
"I lived at Craig in Sonyea for six years," says Ted Hall, who has been part of ACT for about 10 years. While representing ACT at a New York State self-advocacy conference three years ago, Hall heard about a movement called the 1033 group – self-advocates and supporters who came together with the mission of memorializing each person buried on the grounds of institutions in New York State. The group’s name was taken from a grave-marker that included no name, only the number 1033.
"As part of the 1033 group, ACT has planted many flowers in one of the cemeteries at Craig,” Hall explains. “My hope is to continue finding the names of the remaining people buried there so that all can be remembered."
Opened in 1896, Craig Colony was founded as an institution for people with epilepsy. In 1968, the facility was phased out of existence as a specialized institution and became a facility for care, treatment, education, and training for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. In 1974, it was re-named a Developmental Center and operated under the auspices of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) before closing in 1988.
The flowers used by ACT (seven arrangements in all) were donated by the Groveland Correctional Facility, which took over the Craig buildings after they were closed by OMRDD.
ACT has about 20 members, many of whom work at Hilltop Industries, the vocational rehabilitation division of the Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. By arranging and potting flowers at the Hilltop facility prior to their trip to Sonyea, the group was able to maximize participation with minimal disruption to members’ work routines. Transportation to the cemetery was provided by the Arc of Livingston-Wyoming’s own transportation department, which covers more than 1.9 million miles each year providing services to individuals with special needs.
Seven ACT representatives delivered the potted flowers to the cemetery.
Pictured at the cemetery, by the memorial placed there by Self Advocates of the Finger Lakes Region, are (L-R in Photo 1, above): Becky Nilsson, Joanna Urbanik, Frank Bullock, Miranda Snyder, Frank Tickner, Heather Bump, and Mark Hathaway.
Self-advocacy groups like ACT are a critical component of agencies such as the Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, which are dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to reach their full potential. Put simply, self advocates are people with disabilities who speak up for themselves, and assist others in doing so as well. They serve as a guiding force for policies and procedures at the Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, and at the state and national levels.
For additional information, contact Public Relations Director Jeff Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or (585) 658-2828 ext. 128.