A Touch of Understanding
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Photo by Dante Fontana
Leslie DeDora vividly recalls being a five-year-old and mistreating her aunt who has disabilities.
DeDora’s parents knew that it was time for them to explain disabilities – how it’s important not to treat people who have them differently than anyone else. As she began to understand more and more over the years, she not only treated her aunt better, but began befriending her peers who had disabilities as well. After DeDora became a mother, the treatment of people with disabilities became increasingly important, and teaching empathy for people with them turned into her lifelong mission. With the help of her father, DeDora began A Touch of Understanding (ATOU).
Through its outreach programs and workshops, ATOU provides disability awareness, fosters character building, breaks down barriers and helps students to not be fearful. Students who participate in the program get to experience reading Braille, using mobility canes and wheelchairs, and hear the experiences of some of their peers who have both visible and invisible disabilities. While creating empathy for people with disabilities is the primary goal of the organization, students have been able to extend these lessons to differences of any kind. DeDora hopes that by setting the bar for respectful relationships, the program will help the cause against bullying as well. The workshops are geared toward elementary through high school students and have reached more than 50,000 students across the Sacramento region.
The organization would not be successful without its dedicated volunteers, roughly 80 of them – some with disabilities of their own – who help bring the mission of ATOU to fruition. School children with disabilities who are willing to share their experiences have an incredible impact on the success of the program as well. New to ATOU is Youth FORCE (Friends Offering Respect – Creating Empowerment), which is a youth/adult partnership designed to bring awareness to the cause and foster respectful relationships. Hope, a member of Youth FORCE who has cerebral palsy, says: “After A Touch of Understanding, I no longer feel invisible at school. Kids call me by name and come up and give me high fives. Even the older kids.”
ATOU receives its funding from individual donations, the City of Roseville’s Citizens Benefit Fund, grants and school fees, but like many non-profit organizations, budgets are tight. The organization is hoping its upcoming Access to Care Fair will boost some of their fundraising efforts. The event will take place on Saturday, April 21 at the Bayside Church campus located at 8191 Sierra College Boulevard. This free event “provides practical and professional resources to individuals and families affected by special needs.”
Visit touchofunderstanding.org for more information.