One woman in Southeastern Pennsylvania is fighting every day to make her world a stronger, more inclusive community. Bev Weinberg is a mother, leader, activist, and founder of the nonprofit Integrate For Good. Established in July of 2017, Integrate for Good was created to “strengthen local communities by expanding opportunities for people of all abilities to contribute their time and talent.”
I joined Bev for a volunteer day she hosts with Integrate For Good. As part of her mission to expand opportunities for all, she meets community members for a ‘Sleeping Mat Project’ event where members of the community get together to make recycled plastic bag mats for homeless. I see her carrying big wooden looms inside the building and she is instantly greeted by smiling faces and hugs.
We walk together to the room we will be working in and start making sleeping mats with a dozen or so other volunteers. Bev walks me through the steps of making a sleeping mat. First, I have to cut plastic bags into strips and loops the strips together to create big strings of plastic yarn. After that, the strips get taken to a new station where the strips are looped together and braided to create a thick mat. I learned the process quickly while sitting and chatting with Bev.
“What inspired you to start Integrate for Good?” I start interviewing her while we loop yarn together.
“As an occupational therapist, I spent the first twenty years of my career working with children and adults with disabilities in their homes, in hospital settings, in public and private schools and in private practice,” Bev said. “In all of these systems, there was always a focus on the disability. I was trained to see deficits, to determine what each person could not do. In a way, I was trained to see people as broken and needing to be ‘fixed’.”
She continued explaining to me why her idea to start her nonprofit was so necessary, “Integrate for Good is a creative initiative which utilizes capacity-building strategies, community education and support, event planning and execution and research to expand opportunities for people of all abilities to contribute their time and talent through participation in community-based service opportunities.”
Too often, people with disabilities are seen as only recipients of service, not as valued providers of service to others. Talents go untapped and a charity-based mindset depicting individuals with disabilities as “consumers of service” is perpetuated. When people work with Integrate For Good it is always stressed that everyone has something to offer no matter their ability. We can all help each other and contribute to making the world a better place. Bev quoted Maya Angelou to further explain, “You can’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”
I sat next to Bev in that crowded room and fully understood the mission she was teaching us. From the first moment I walked into the room, I was among people of all abilities, helping each other, contributing to a bigger cause. The room was transformed into a community of people who came back week after week to make a difference, and it filled me with inspiration.
Bev turned to me, “I think one of the best parts is that this group comes here every week and looks forward to seeing each other and eating lunch together. Some people go the whole day without anyone knowing their name. Here, we all know each other.”
Bev has dedicated her life to a project that is transforming lives, creating joy and friendships, and integrating good into her community. She truly has made a difference in so many lives and continues to do so every day. Bev started a butterfly effect of kind acts, starting with an idea for a nonprofit, morphing into a life-changing organization. In her own words, “I truly believe that big impacts are made up of a lot of smaller impacts! I like to say that macro-level change happens on a micro-level.”
To get involved or learn more about Integrate For Good, visit https://integrateforgood.org/mission.