Kevin Alspaugh’s interests are as diverse as one can imagine, enjoying geography, rollercoasters, and Spanish-language movies. He loves swimming and snorkeling in the ocean. He’s also extremely creative, sharing his talent through artwork and crafts.
Now 30 years old, Kevin is also severely autistic, requiring 1:1 supervision throughout most of his life. Developmentally aged five years, he is physically able and takes care of his daily essentials, like shaving and showering. Though nonverbal, he is able to communicate his basic needs and express affection for his family and caregivers.
Among those family members are Samantha Jones, Peoples Bank Retail Branch Manager, and Grace Waite, Peoples Bank Customer Service Representative. “Having a close family member with a developmental disability is very special, but it’s not always easy,” share his sisters. “It’s important that people become more aware of the way we treat those with disabilities and their families.”
National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month aims to do just that. Created 35 years ago for the month of March, the campaign
“seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live. "Over six million Americans are said to have developmental disabilities, which can refer to impairments in learning and behavior, such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and impairments in physical and/or intellectual functioning such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and Down syndrome." 
A welcoming community at the Max Higbee Center
As a teenager, Kevin was introduced to the Max Higbee Center in Bellingham. Supporting the needs of more than 400 developmentally disabled adults and teens in Whatcom County, the center offers recreational programs and support services. Kevin’s sisters remember how wonderful it was to see their brother having fun around people where he felt comfortable and accepted.
One of Kevin’s favorite activities are the summer street art sales, in which he’s able to sell the art projects he created at the center to those in the community. Being able to combine his passion for art with his love of earning money is incredibly meaningful and rewarding.
The summer street art sales are just one of many opportunities available to members at the Max Higbee Center. Aiming to provide a “caring, inclusive, respectful and thriving community where people are empowered to grow, develop and enrich their lives,” the center provides both virtual and in-person activities. Members can also sign up for services, such as one-on-one recreational mentoring.
Curiosity for the person, not just the disability
The Max Higbee Center holds a special place for LaVonne Olsen, Director of Human Resources and Training at Peoples Bank. Since 2010, she has served on the organization’s board. “Access to the community is a priority, not an afterthought at the Max Higbee Center,” says LaVonne. “It offers rich learning opportunities, and many are community-based. The building is a place to launch from, not to stay.”
LaVonne is also a parent to an adult son, Ryan, who uses MHC programs. Charming and funny, Ryan has been a member since he was 14. There, he hangs out with his friends and does activities many neurotypical individuals take for granted. Karaoke, walks to the library and park, movies, and bowling are just some of the many examples of things Ryan does through the center and with his peers.
As a parent and an advocate, LaVonne’s message for National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a reminder for people to be curious about the human being, don’t be so curious about the disability. “People tend to ask me what Ryan’s diagnosis is before they ask me what is important to him,” LaVonne explains. “When I look at Ryan, I don't see the disability, I see his potential and all the things he contributes to the world.”
Samantha and Grace agree, adding that being kind makes a huge difference. “In our hectic and busy lives, we tend to forget about the needs of those with disabilities.” We may not be aware of or understand the challenges someone may be going through. Celebrating the contributions of individuals with developmental disabilities and recognizing their needs and potential is definitely a good place to start.
Peoples Bank is committed to celebrating the diversity of its employees and communities. We believe each person’s unique background and personal experiences make us stronger as a whole. In honor of Kevin, Samantha, Grace, Ryan, and LaVonne, and in recognition of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, Peoples Bank is donating $5,000 to the Max Higbee Center.