Have you seen those men around town, donned in yellow and orange aprons with front pockets containing Tootsie Rolls?
They've been visible outside local retail establishments such as Walmart, , , Shop-Rite and and each of the five Catholic Churches in Southington. To be clear, they’re not selling Tootsie Rolls – it’s not about Tootsie Rolls at all.
“The gentlemen with the candy bars are members of the Southington Knights of Columbus,” said Dennis Kelly, Grand Knight of the Isabella Council 15 in Southington. “They’re volunteers helping to raise money, essentially through small donations to help us in our annual Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities.”
“The Tootsie Roll is a way of showing appreciation for the generosity of patrons, including children, for stopping to give a small but important gift to help people with intellectual disabilities,” said Deputy Grand Knight John Taillie. “While the candy bar has become part of and symbolic of the tradition, it's neither an endorsement for it, nor its manufacturer.”
The money collected goes to organizations that provide services and assistance to people with intellectual disabilities. One such organization the Knights of Columbus helps with the funds raised is the Arc of Southington.
While the Knights of Columbus’ mission of charity and community support goes far beyond this one cause, the focus here is on this campaign being one more example of the many fine groups in Southington who make it their business to help others.
Perception is often based not on reality but language - words and phrases we've come to use to describe people based on social status, behavior or appearance.
One of the primary missions of the Knights of Columbus, in terms of the public perception of "people with intellectual disabilities," is to call the campaign just that and to recognize that their particular disabilities do not define who they are.
Each one of them is an individual with a life, a family, friends and interests as diverse as the range of their disabilities. They live normal lives. They also enjoy useful and productive lives, loving and respecting others.
Critical to the Knights of Columbus mission is that people with or without disabilities are first and primarily people, deserving the respect and dignity every human should have. Given the historic penchant we have for classifying others into groups, respect for human dignity can come slowly, one person at a time.
Old biases and myths are hard to lose. Sadly, we teach our children those prejudices and judgments through our own example. As a young boy, some of my elders would sometimes make a bogeyman out of a person because he/she didn't look or act as others did. Consequently, I still remember being afraid and keeping my distance from some of "those" people.
Ironically, when that person who is different also happens to be your sister or cousin or someone you love, the description of the person starts to change.
Through the years, the Southington Knights of Columbus has provided significant support for people with intellectual disabilities. For more about their charitable activities and social services visit their website by clicking on the link provided.
P.S. By the way, Tootsie Rolls are pretty tasty, but don’t tell my dentist I said so!
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