Opinion

The business of investment

Despite the title of this column, it isn’t about portfolio management strategies or stocks to watch in 2010. Although it is something that this community’s savvy investors might want to read. The type of investment I’m writing about is the kind that pays personal, social and community dividends in addition to financial ones. It’s an investment in people.

My organization serves people with developmental disabilities, and when I talk to others about the work we do, I stress the importance of investment. Not charity, not support, not gifts — but a real investment in the business sense of the word. Because there are clear, tangible returns that accrue from an investment in programs that serve people with disabilities. As I illustrate those returns in my conversations, the response I regularly get is, “I had no idea.”

Developmental conditions like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy can’t be cured, but their effects on the lives of the people who have them can be managed. In fact, investing one dollar today in early intervention for a young person who has a delay or disability means four dollars will be saved down the road. Some children need fewer future services as a result of early intervention; others need none. In fact, a full 27 percent of children who receive early intervention services don’t even require special education later on. So a very achievable change in trajectory winds up having not only a lifelong effect on the individual; it also provides significant economic benefits to the community.

Take Emily, who was part of our children’s program when she was a toddler. Through the support of her teachers and therapists, Emily learned to socialize with children of all abilities. She learned life skills as well as pre-academic skills that prepared her for school and for living successfully in our society. She went on to complete her education through the public school system and now is an employee at Northwest Center Kids. Emily is proud that the work she does provides other children the opportunities she had as young child. Today Emily is a delightful, hard-working woman who has shown how having the right supports in place early on can create a foundation for future success. Her contribution to the program and the kids in it is evidence in itself — instead of receiving services, she’s serving others through her daily work.

Emily also contributes to the economy. In Washington state alone last year, people with disabilities earned $41million in wages. That’s income that goes right back into our state through things like taxes, rent and purchases. It’s also income that builds confidence and personal pride. Perhaps you feel productive when you’re earning an income and using your earnings to meet your goals and better your life. People with disabilities feel exactly the same way.

The great thing about this type of investment is that the savvy investor receives the personal return they’re looking for. That’s because service also pays dividends back to the server. Each person who makes a commitment to engage people with disabilities in their community gets more than personal satisfaction — they and their family get a community that’s both economically strong and socially rich. So think about what kind of investment you can make to yield results for the people, businesses and communities of the North Puget Sound. Investing in people is smart and it works. Just ask Emily.

Tom Everill is the President & CEO of Northwest Center, which contributes monthly columns for this publication. Contact him at inside@nwcenter.org if there are topics related to people with disabilities that would interest you.

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