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Craven Community College student Brendon Hildreth fights for the disabled
Sun Journal - 9/5/2017
Sept. 04--Brendon Hildreth is a man in motion. The 27-year-old Craven Community College student, who was born with cerebral palsy, was recently named to the N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities by Gov. Roy Cooper. And though the words that come from his electronic communication device are halting and at times hard to catch, the pride in the young man's eyes couldn't be more obvious.
"When I found out, I was real excited to be appointed to the council by the governor," he said. "I'm hoping this will allow me to provide opportunities for people with disabilities. I want to advocate for people so everyone can be included."
Hildreth was notified that he'd been accepted to the council in June, when he received a call from the governor's office. Since that time he and his mother have logged more than 1,000 miles on the road, attending meetings in Raleigh between classes and other commitments.
The N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD) works throughout the state to assure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to needed community services, individualized supports and other forms of assistance. The council identifies problems facing communities and funds projects and initiatives that promote the goals of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act).
NCCDD has 40 members appointed by the governor, of which 60 percent are required to be people with intellectual or other developmental disabilities or family members. Others members include state legislators, top state agency officials and representatives of Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations and service providers.
"One of my responsibilities will be to make sure that the community is accessible for anyone regardless of their ability," said Hildreth, who serves on the council's Community Living Committee. "Another responsibility will be to make policy guidelines for people in North Carolina with disabilities. I may also be involved in the process for emergency situations on the state level."
Though he is in a wheelchair and has only limited use of his arms and hands, Hildreth has been advocating for the disabled since his high school days. The Massachusetts native began working with the Accessible Icon Project prior to moving to New Bern with his family in 2012. The global grassroots campaign works to replace the dated International Symbol of Access with a new icon that depicts people in wheelchairs as autonomous and independent and in motion.
"When we moved here to North Carolina, I didn't want to be bored so I began working on getting the Icon Project picked up here," said Hildreth. "I went before the New Bern Board of Aldermen and presented the idea to them. My hope was that New Bern would adopt the icon and begin using it in their parking lots.The council was very supportive of this and now the icon is seen all around New Bern."
Darcy Hildreth, Brendon's mother, said the support shown by the city government is indicative of what her family has encountered in the local school system.
"What brought us to North Carolina was the services, quite honestly," she said. "Brendon had aged out of the special education system in Massachusetts. He had two major hip surgeries and still somehow managed to get his high school diploma. One agency in Massachusetts didn't know how to deal with him and one agency didn't want to deal with him at all. They basically just wanted to put him in a program and just let him sit all day."
Hildreth is currently enrolled in the Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Composites programs at Craven Community College. He will graduate with two associate degrees next May.
"Craven Community is just above and beyond anything we could have hoped for," said Darcy Hildreth. "And they do it naturally. It's not a forced. It's 'What can we do to help you Brendon?'"
CAD Instructor Jeff Brown said Hildreth's work ethic has been an inspiration to other students.
"I kind of wish more students were like Brendon, because even before class he's asking me about assignments; he's always ready to go. And he's very proactive as far as getting his assignments completed and getting them to me on time," said Brown.
Looking ahead to his work with NCCDD, Hildreth said he would like to focus on providing consistent disability services throughout the state.
"I would like to see all state agencies of North Carolina work the same and provide all of the support that they are slated to do," he said. "What I mean is that how an agency works in Craven County should be the same as how the same agency works in the western part of the state. I want to be sure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities throughout North Carolina."
Although she's cautious about gazing too far into the future, Darcy Hildreth said she's hopeful the NCCCD will be another stepping stone towards success for her son.
"What's presented in front of him I don't know. For me, it's where a lot of faith comes in. You have to trust that all these roads are going to eventually lead to a good place," she said. "All joking aside, we always say that we don't write in ink, because every time we make a plan something changes and life happens. All any parent can really hope for is for their kid to be given a chance."
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