Embracing Culture

"Learning about each other, where we come from, who we are, what we love, that's what it's all about," says Quinta Emefele, Program Director at Newbrook Loudoun.

This is one of the most unique parts about CRi -- Embracing culture.

Emefele knows better than most that a core caveat of person-centered planning is understanding the culturral background of each person supported. "Person-centered planning is imperative & helps create positive community roles & choices for people with disabilities. It's our main focus everyday at CRi, & it helps us to learn & grow," she says.

Sharing culture is an excellent way to expose people to new experieces & allow for new choices - especially through food, hobbies music, & language.

"What's around you is a HUGE part of your culture," adds Ursla Mkeh, Program Director at CRi's Lake Jackson home. "We want to make sure our people are exposed to many different things & ways of life so they can feel empowered to make better choices for themselves & for their lives. They learn from us & we learn from them to kind of make our very OWN culture."

At CRi, staff works hard to consistently find new ways to meet people where they are, to learn about eachother's backgrounds, & to help each program shape their own unique culture.

Upon a visit to CRi's Lake Jackson home during the spring & summer months, you will find a large, bustling garden full of lifein the backyard. If you are looking for a traditional small "American-style" garden, however, you might not find it here. Many of CRI's direct support staff are from African countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, & the Ivory Coast, & make it a point actively share their cultures with the people they support each day. This has an amazing impact on the food they are able to grow, cook, & eat together as a program.

Many CRi programs have outdoor space that they use for therapeutic gardening. Gardens are often planned as a team in the late winter/early spring & then crops are planted a little later. Programs routinely incorporate much of what they grow in their daily meals, which helps cut down on food costs. 

Before the pandemic, homes/programs took turns running a weekly farmer's market where they could showcase their crops in the community & sell them to make money for their gardens. In these gardens, many programs choose to grow crops like cassava root, banana leaf, stinging nettle, sweet potato leaf, & other traditional african herbs. You will also find tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, & cucumber at many, as well. The blending of traditional American & traditional African gardens helps to create a new, hybrid culture all of it's own -- something we are really proud of.

"We love to grow food from both cultures, American & African -- That way, we can cook foods that are important to each us & when we break bread, we learn so much more about each other," Mkeh states. Lake Jackson residents are also very active in cooking the meals that are important to them using ingredients from the garden.

"They love the food, they love to cook it, too. They request it now," says Mkeh.

Whether it's through daily dance parties, the introduction of new music, food, or language, Mkeh knows very well the importance of connecting culturally with the people her program. "Being culturally competent & really understanding people at their core is one of the most important things we can do for someone," she says.

"It's harder to connect & care for someone if you don't know their likes, their family, where they are from," she says. "We have to truly understand them. We have to build our own culture with them. It's just a critical part of of building a relationship that supports the whole person -- And that's why it's so important to us that we share & learn from one another. That's what makes CRi great."

We couldn't agree more.

{Story written by Allison John, Philanthropy & Communications Manager}

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