Frazer Center recently became a Charter Partner of Compassionate Atlanta, “a grassroots movement that seeks to raise awareness about the benefits of compassionate action in the Greater Atlanta area” through initiatives such as community conversations and charter partnerships. This local movement is inspired by a worldwide initiative to put into action the Golden Rule.
It all began with a TED Talk by Karen Armstrong, a writer and scholar of religion. Winner of the TED Prize in 2008, Armstrong called for the TED community to help build a Charter for Compassion, and in 2009 a document was unveiled that has inspired acts of compassion among individuals, organizations, and cities around the world.
The word compassion comes from the Latin expression meaning “to suffer with.” But compassion isn’t just putting oneself in another’s shoes, it’s also a desire to help alleviate another’s suffering. We can’t have compassion without first being aware of another and then making a conscious effort to connect with them.
It is these connections that are at the core of Frazer’s mission. Creating inclusive environments helps provide opportunities for those without disabilities to become aware of and connect with individuals and families living with disabilities. Once these connections are made, the door to compassion is wide open. Compassionate Atlanta Co-Director Leanne Rubenstein says, “We are very much a connector.” Frazer becoming a charter member was an easy leap.
The first step in the partnership with Compassionate Atlanta was creating a focus group comprised of several participants and staff of Frazer’s Adult Program. Development Director Tonja Holder got together with Rubenstein to facilitate a discussion with the focus group, beginning with three questions:
What are your favorite leisure activities?
What would you like to do more of?
What are the barriers you experience that keep you from doing more of what you love in the larger community?
Next, the two organizations held a Welcoming Communities Conversation in Frazer’s atrium space. Among the attendees were neighbors from Lake Claire and beyond, members of the original focus group, and Atlanta City Commissioner Natalyn Archibong. A major topic of discussion was accessibility and how we can create better access for everyone in our community.
Participants in the conversation noted several barriers in their day-to-day living. For example, MARTA has created some wonderful new shelters at some of their bus stops, but the adjacent curb doesn’t always have a ramp. Similarly, several establishments in older renovated buildings along the Beltline have created rooftop seating areas, but people who use wheelchairs are excluded from these spaces.
Commissioner Archibong wasted no time. As soon as she was aware of these issues, she made contact with leaders at several organizations and institutions to get moving toward solutions.
This is what Compassionate Atlanta does. “Collaboration is the heart of what we do,” says Rubenstein. Frazer Center is one of 137 charter partners which include faith-based organizations, businesses, and nonprofits. Four cities have also signed the Charter for Compassion. Decatur, Clarkston, and Berkeley Lake are Compassionate Atlanta Charter Partners, and in 2014, Atlanta became one of the largest cities in the U.S. to have signed the charter. Commissioner Archibong was instrumental in making that happen.
Moving forward, Frazer plans to host quarterly conversations to continue making these community connections, particularly along the Ponce corridor. We are asking ourselves and others: What is a radically welcoming community? What is accessible to all of us? What can each individual do in their own life to spread compassion?
At Frazer, these questions have led us to explore the logistics of making Frazer Forest accessible to people who use wheelchairs. And every day, in tiny ways and large ways, each staff member faces decisions about creating inclusive environments as we work toward the day when “inclusion” is no longer an “issue” but the norm.