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Greetings and welcome, and congratulations, again, to Stone Belt for a fantastic year of service to our community, and all our residents. Thank you (for the introduction) to Leslie Green (CEO), who has dedicated herself to Stone Belt for almost 40 years. Thank you as well to Board President Anne Higley for all your work, along with the many board members, staff members, advocates, clients, families, and community supporters who make Stone Belt thrive.

Dedication that comes from the heart has made Stone Belt an integral part of our community for nearly 60 years. And I mean integral. Because for as much as this organization matters to the community members and their families who depend on its many services, Stone Belt has also helped in crucial ways to define and strengthen our community as a whole.

Because Stone Belt exists, many more people living with disabilities can live more fulfilling lives -- whether elementary students in inclusion classrooms, adults who are living independently in group homes, individuals pursuing meaningful employment at Cook or IU among many local employers, or others expressing themselves creatively through visual art and dramatic storytelling.  

At the same time, because Stone Belt exists, the lives of more people living without disabilities are also significantly enriched. 
 
Your tireless work to make Stone Belt thrive has made our community thrive. Because of you, this community has been at the forefront of a philosophical shift in the way we view differences. What it took was a few dedicated and visionary parents back in the 1950s who rejected the culture and practices surrounding disability, and took change into their own hands.  And then, for many more families and allies to come together with heart and mind to insist on and work toward the dignity of all people.  Advocates like those who started our City’s Council for Community Accessibility, for example, soon after the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990. Or, those who organized the Down Syndrome Family Connection in 2006, to provide support, advocacy, and education. From the start, Stone Belt has planted the flag, voiced the values, and set our community’s standard for equity, reinforcing our community’s welcoming, inclusive spirit.

Just like the tunes of Hoagy Carmichael, our limestone buildings, and the bikers rolling down the streets every April before the Little Five, Stone Belt is a big part of our culture here in Bloomington. If you’ve played with your children at the Bryan Park Playground, or strolled past the Animal Island sculpture on the B-Line Trail, you’ve seen the iconic work of Stone Belt artists. Every morning, in fact, my own day is brightened when I see a wonderful portrait of this mayor, hanging in the waiting room, done by Angie Deel in 2017.  

With guidance from Stone Belt, Angie has not only discovered her talents as an artist, but long been employed by IU Parking Operations and lived in a private apartment with a roommate.  

How many folks are living self-directed lives because of the work you are doing? Thank you. You, all of you who are Stone Belt, make Bloomington the kind of city we want to be: a community that explicitly and proudly and loudly states in word and deed that all are welcome here, and that our community is stronger for our inclusion, our equity.

An old saying, an African proverb I believe, says “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” You, Stone Belt, all of you make us go far, together. Best wishes on another great year ahead, and thanks for all you do for our community.   
 

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