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By Jeff Maisey
On June 27, Hope House Foundation will celebrate 40 years of service and visionary leadership of its transformative, charismatic executive director, Lynne Seagle, during its Annual Dinner event.
Under Seagle’s leadership, Hope House Foundation, with the support from its board of directors and staff members, has fostered an inclusive community where the individuals it serves are valued and appreciated for who they are within the community in which they live.
As Lynne was packing her luggage for a much needed vacation to England and Wales, she took a few moments for the following interview.
VEER: Looking back at your 40-year career, what have been the most monumental changes in the field of assisting intellectually challenged individuals?
Lynne Seagle: The first thing that comes to mind is the movement of people with disabilities out of large-scale institutions into neighborhoods and communities. This created the need for organizations such as Hope House Foundation to be formed. The other major change would be the passage of Public Law 94-142 which required states to offer children with disabilities the right to a free and public education in the nation’s school systems. Lastly, the passage of The American with Disabilities Act which created the expectations and required accommodations for people with disabilities to have access and framed inclusion as a right.
VEER: How did Hope House Foundation operate before you became part of the organization?
Lynne: The original board that started Hope House Foundation in the late sixties were a group of parents that did not want institutionalization for their children. These six individuals worked tirelessly to acquire a house in Norfolk which became the first group home in the State of Virginia, supporting eight people. They then served in an advisory capacity to the local Arc that operated this home as well as several more. In 1978 this group that formed Hope House Foundation was then asked by the Norfolk Community Services Board to reconstitute as an operating agency providing services. I was hired in July of 1978 to oversee the group homes the Arc turned over.
VEER: Did you have a vision coming in and how did it evolve over time?
Lynne: I don’t know if I would call it a vision but more a sense of social justice and the lack of such for people with disabilities. I wanted people to be included, valued and accepted. I was in my early 20s at the time and still had much to learn from people with disabilities.
VEER: Hope House Foundation passionately believes it is important to integrate the people it serves into the broader community. Can you expand upon the value this key mission/goal has to the community and the individual?
Lynne: I think all of us can relate to the negative effects and outcomes of exclusion. Whether this is a gay kid being bullied in school, a solider returning from an unpopular war, such as Vietnam or an elderly person segregated off in a nursing home. The practice of exclusion simply makes things worse. Worse for society as a whole as we lose the gifts, talents and perspectives that diversity brings and to the individual who suffers from the lack of connection and belonging.
VEER: What do you consider the primary challenges in overseeing Hope House Foundation?
Lynne: The lack of political will from the citizens of this state to demand and elect representatives that will advocate for inclusion and fund services and supports for the citizens of this state who experience disabilities. For my entire career Virginia has ranked at the bottom, that is not about politicians, that is about us.
VEER: Has fundraising been easier or more challenging over the course of the past 40 years?
Lynne: Our motivation for fundraising is to build community so we start with the question of what will make a community better to live in and build connection and value for everyone? We try to answer that with our endeavors and partnership. The money and support usually follow when that is your motive. It’s a collaborative partnership we foster with the communities of Hampton Roads that has been built over a number of decades. When people understand our values are authentic I have found their generosity to be astounding and also quite humbling.
VEER: You are actively requested as a speaker in other parts of the country and the world. Can you share those experiences?
Lynne: It really started as a way to raise money for Hope House and to share our learning from closing all of our group homes in favor of supporting people in their own homes regardless of the level or complexity of their disability. Since then it has expanded to leadership training, board development, strategic planning and facilitation of teams or groups. I have had wonderful opportunities to work and learn from a variety of people and organizations. The range has been fantastic, from a small village in Saipan, a long-term role with the National Health Service in the UK, working with a basketball team in Japan, speaking in Qatar and Israel and almost every state here in the US. Like the poets say, it is the traveler that becomes changed. I have certainly found that to be true and it has fortified my belief that we need to work towards all people having dignity, human rights and connection. Having value for all of humanity is a big and sometimes difficult concept yet simple too, it starts with each of us changing our beliefs, prejudices and assumptions and seeing people and places through our heart.
VEER: As part of the community, Hope House Foundation has produced events such as Stockley Gardens Arts Festival and Shamrockin’ in Ghent as both fundraisers but also important community/cultural events. How did these develop and why are they a vital part of your mission?
Lynne: It really goes back to our desire and intention to build community. When the Ghent Arts Festival moved to Towne Point a number of artists lamented about not having the show in a tree filled park within a neighborhood. We responded and partnered with this group and Stockley was born. The same can be said for Shamrockin, when the Ghent Business Association decided to focus their efforts on other needed events we took this over because it brought community together and welcomed everyone.
VEER: What does the future look like for Hope House Foundation and you personally?
Lynne: I believe the future is exciting for Hope House in so many ways. We continue to be the only organization in Virginia that exclusively supports people with disabilities in their own homes, I am hopeful that statement will not be true in the next 5 years. We will continue to build community and partner with various groups that aim to make our communities inclusive and kind. We have incredible staff members who daily do the right thing for the right reason and we have a board of directors that are talented, committed and diverse. I believe we will continue to innovate, especially around assistive technology for those we support and I believe we will also continue to expand and be a leader in this work. As for me, I know the leaders that will follow me are competent, value based and love this organization deeply. When I decide to reduce my role or move on I will be confident the next generation at Hope House will make the future nothing but brighter. I have a number of thoughts about what the next chapter may bring for me. At this point I am pretty sure it will not be far from the principles this agency represents. Many people will say Hope House is me, but I would disagree; the truth is I am Hope House, and that makes all the difference.
VEER: Looking back, what would you say your greatest accomplishment has been with Hope House Foundation?
Lynne: The commitment to embrace my ideals and stretch beyond my reach for a cause that is just.