BraveHeart Center for Place and Purpose hosting photo exhibit as part of ongoing outreach initiatives

Published: September 26, 2018
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As a mother of a child with special needs, Angie Colvin Burque personally and professionally experienced the need for more educational and community activities for preteens, youth and young adults with special needs, especially those with moderate to severe life challenges. Burque, who serves as director of field education and associate clinical professor of social work in Auburn University’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts, wanted to change the narrative for families, like hers, who have special needs.

In response to the need she saw, Burque developed Expressions of a BraveHeart, or BraveHearts, a comprehensive health and wellness, community inclusion program for youth and young adults with special needs in Auburn.

“I wanted to provide a space for young people between the ages of 11 and 21 who have disabilities to have a place they look forward to coming to and where they feel fully accepted, embraced and valued by the community of persons that are there,” said Burque.

To bring awareness to the program, as well as promote disability awareness and inclusion in the community, the BraveHearts Center for Place and Purpose, or BCPP, is hosting a photography exhibit Sept. 23-Oct. 27. The photo exhibit will be hosted at the Auburn Public Library at 749 E. Thach Avenue. This exhibit is free and open to the public.

“BCPP hosts community outreach projects every year. We do trick-or-treat for cans in October where we collect canned goods for food drives, a holiday toy drive in November and December for the fire station’s toy drive and then a warm hearts blanket drive in February to benefit the elderly,” said Burque. “Each of those is designed to connect different segments of the community with the underlying premise that a community includes many different parts, to the extent that you find reciprocal awareness, connection and value for those different parts. The stronger the community, the more inclusive the community is.”

BCPP is a partnership between the social work program in Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts and the First Presbyterian Church of Auburn. BCPP is a comprehensive post-high school health and wellness program that provides a place where individuals with disabilities are offered opportunities for continued growth in the areas of health and fitness, academia, life and job skills, community outreach and creative arts exploration in a setting that is sensitive to their need for safety, importance of belonging and their benefit of consistent daily routine.

“When you're talking about people who are facing more moderate to severe life challenges, what that means is that they are probably not ever going to have a driver's license and not ever going to live on their own,” said Burque. “They need support to both assist them in managing and translating the world to them, as well as they need support to interpret them to the world.”

Burque said BraveHearts also strives to increase understanding and sensitivity for helping professionals; specifically, those professionals who choose to serve families with individuals who have moderate to severe disabilities.

“The people who are the most like you are generally the easiest for you to connect and communicate with because you don't feel as uncomfortable. It feels like a known experience,” said Burque. “But, the path of growing and becoming more almost always requires you to step into something that's uncomfortable and inconvenient. That’s why I wanted to provide students with a positive, transformative and informative experience in approaching, interacting and communicating with people who, based on either appearance or behaviors, appear to be very different from them.”

As a service learning and volunteer opportunity for Auburn University students, BraveHearts aims to increase students’ comfort level around people with disabilities, willingness to engage in communication with people with disabilities, understanding of specific disabilities and students’ desire to be advocates for improved policies, programs and services for people with disabilities. The majority of the students participate to fulfill a service learning requirement in one of two social work courses, Human Behavior and the Social Environment I and Practice Methods I. However, many students, such as Caroline Kupec, continue to volunteer long after their service learning requirement is complete.

“I began volunteering with BraveHearts as part of a requirement for class, but once I started, I couldn’t get enough,” said Kupec. “This organization has provided me with invaluable experiences and has transformed me into the professional that I am today. Many students do not have a lot of experience working with individuals with disabilities, but BraveHearts creates a place where Auburn students can learn how to be a friend to someone who has a disability and where it’s ok to make mistakes.”

Each BraveHearts member is matched with at least two student coaches to support the development and maintenance of positive peer interactions, relationships and friendships while also allowing youth and young adults with special needs to develop individual interests, friendships and creativity while increasing their independence, self-esteem, self-determination and community involvement.

To learn more about BraveHeart Center for Place and Purpose, go to http://cla.auburn.edu/cpp.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.