Community faith leaders, city staff members, city council members, business leaders, contractors and nonprofit representatives gathered on the morning of Oct. 28 for the 25th annual New Hope Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at Cooper High School.
This year’s theme was “ability/disability — community is all of us.” The theme focused on being inclusive of all community members regardless of their ability.
The morning program included performances by the All District School Youth Choir, violin and viola players, Laugh Yoga by Mary Margaret Anderson and the Cooper lunch staff’s well-known caramel rolls.
Rev. Richard Buller, of Valley Community Presbyterian Church, was the first faith leader to speak.
Buller, a “proud owner of two artificial hips,” said each of his surgical experiences taught him what it means to need assistance with mobility and transportation and access to various buildings.
Buller said that while the prayer breakfast planning committee was studying this year’s theme, they came to learn a new concept.
“The new concept is temporarily able bodied,” he said. “We never know, my friends, when health challenges or life changing events can create new needs that we have. So, our prayer for the community today from us clergy is acceptance and tolerance and understanding of all citizens of New Hope. Our prayer is that we open up our eyes to the personalities and the humanity of those who might be in a wheelchair or those that might need communication through sign language. We are all in this together.”
Elias Youngblom, an aspiring music teacher, was traveling home from college in Fargo, North Dakota when a drunk driver entered the interstate highway on the wrong side, hitting his vehicle head-on at 70 miles per hour.
“Elias could have been killed,” said the Rev. Mark Vinge, of House of Hope Lutheran Church. “He was severely injured and he was permanently blinded. Yet he is very much alive, filled with purpose and possibility.”
The crash left Youngblom in the hospital for three months, where he relearned how to talk, eat and walk among many other things.
“Last year was a rather trying year for me,” Youngblom said. “It’s been quite a process for me.”
The physical recovery, he said, was probably the easiest part.
“I didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “My body is, I guess, good at what it does and it recovered pretty quickly. The mental challenge of learning how to function as a human being again, has been trying to say the least.”
Youngblom attributes much of his success to the strong support system he had throughout his recovery. He recalls only be alone in the hospital for a few hours within the three months.
“That by itself was a huge part of the reason why I had any success,” he said. “The community has been so crucial to my recovery.”
Youngblom admits he was not sure how he would ever get back to a normal functioning life where he could do the things he enjoyed, like music.
It was tough at first, he said, but he persevered. Within nine months of being released from the hospital, he was living on his own. He also quickly returned to work.
“It’s not really that much of a disability,” he said of his blindness. “The word, to me, disability, means that I am unable to do something. I don’t have the ability to do something, which in my tenure of being blind, I’ve realized that the only real thing I can’t do is drive, for some reason.”
Youngblom said he has encountered some people who think he is lost or who pity him for his disability.
“I have a pretty good life,” he said. “I don’t have anything to complain about. Sure, getting around is a little bit more of a challenge, but everything else is normal. I cook better than a lot of people. I clean worse than a lot of people. It’s fine.”
Continuing with the idea of community, Rabbi Jennifer Hartman told a story they like to tell at Temple Israel about the building of a synagogue in the middle ages.
Once the synagogue is complete, the community members realize that their beautiful new synagogue does not have any lights.
The architect points to the hooks lining the perimeter of the synagogue. There are enough hooks for every person in the community.
“The idea was that as people walked in with their lanterns, they would put their lantern on their hook,” Hartman said. “Not only did that mean the community was bringing light to the sanctuary, it also meant that without the entire community, there would not be light. If one of those hooks was left empty the community would know something was wrong and somebody needed their help. It teaches us that without every person, no matter their abilities, we are not a full community, we are not at our greatest strength and we cannot do all that we want to do.”
Other faith leaders who spoke included the Rev. Jim Cook, Father Terry Rassmussen and Iman Hamdy El-Sawaf.
Keynote speaker Mary Margaret Anderson lead the audience in some mindful yoga practices. She talked about how to change your face and thoughts in order to change your body and mind for the better.
Laurie Carlson, the volunteer coordinator at Can Do Canines, talked about how the organization’s assistance dogs help those in need with mobility and monitoring glucose levels for diabetics.
Mayor Kathi Hemken closed the ceremony with some words of encouragement.
“We all want the same thing. We all want to be accepted, appreciated and cared about,” she said. “We all have gifts to share no matter our ability. Let’s look passed the disability and see the person inside. I want New Hope to be a place where all are welcome and our diverse talents are celebrated.”
In tradition, Hemken ended the morning program with a quote from Bud, her late husband and best friend.
“If you have the choice of being right or being kind, please choose kind,” she quoted.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]