It is often said that you can't judge a book by its cover. The same thing can be said, according to Autism Support Group of St. Croix Valley founder Peg Scott, about people with disabilities.
To help reinforce that notion, as well as help raise funds for the organization, Scott gathered several of her friends with disabilities to put together a music video to enter a national contest.
"In looking for ways to be creative in raising funds for our organization ... and we are always looking for ways to get the word out about inclusion, acceptance and that we are more alike than we are different," Scott said. "We came across a national competition for creating a video showing our interpretation of empowerment, acceptance and awareness using aging and disability to the song 'This Is Me,' from the Greatest Showman."
The organizations video - which took about two weeks to film, edit and polish - earned second place in the contest, which was put on by the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities, and received a $1,000 prize.
After being posted online just over two weeks ago, the video has 30,000 views, Scott said. The following people were involved in the making of the music video: Nicole Rowan, North Hudson; Nora Rowan, North Hudson; Tony Geving, New Richmond; Nancy Geving, New Richmond; Kym Dunleap, Somerset; Mary Ellen Dillon, Hudson; Brittany Moreland, New Richmond; Lauri Moreland, River Falls; Lindsey Moreland, Hudson; Phoebe Dunleap, Somerset; Chelsea Crosby, River Falls; Parker Crosby, River Falls; Ramsey Lee, Hudson; David Bowen, River Falls; David Jr., River Falls; Amber Schlueter, River Falls; Matt Crosby, River Falls; and Gabby Henry, New Richmond.
"We made this video because often times people think they know someone just by looking at them. We wanted to make a video that encourages people to look beyond the diagnosis and the disability because we are more alike than not and we get to define ourselves," Scott said. "So when we got everyone together, we had them tell everyone what their diagnosis or disability is and then tell us who you are. Then we conveyed that through the video and hopefully got across that we are all a lot alike and we get to say who we are, not our disability."
Scott and Chelsea Crosby, who is the mother of a 2-year-old son with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, came up with the idea for the script, while Scott's husband, Ron, helped film the music video. The film crew traveled to the location that best allowed the person being filmed to be the most comfortable and easily able to access what they wanted to do. The video included nine area community members with disability or aging, including people from Somerset, New Richmond, River Falls and Hudson.
"Everyone loved the video. When we were notified that we had placed second, we had another big reveal party again," Scott said. "That was so much fun because we rolled out the red carpet and my husband was interviewing everyone as they came through. We then launched it to go viral, since we couldn't put it online before the contest was over."
Submissions for the contest were due on July 14 and the group found out they finished in second place on July 25. Although the organization did not take first place and get to present their video at the National Home & Community Based Services Conference, NASUAD thought the video was so powerful, they asked if they could share the video at the conference as well. The group was also invited to attend the conference.
Scott started a support group in February 2017 following the diagnosis of two of her grandchildren with autism. The group later became the Autism Support Group of the St. Croix Valley in April 2018 after it became a 501(c)(3).
"In my family, we did not know disabilities, and all of a sudden we had two family members being diagnosed. We did not know what it meant and when we found out what it meant ... it is not an easy diagnosis," Scott said. "We kind of fell to the floor and went through some depression. As we started to move and figure out what our next steps were, we realized that there was not a lot of support being offered in St. Croix County. We couldn't find families to connect to, we didn't know how to maneuver insurances, we did not know how to figure out schools, therapies and the language alone is all acronyms. It was just really hard and very, very lonely."
As Scott and her family started to look into it more, they found that there are resources and families in the area. After awhile, Scott and her family organized support groups. As she heard more and more stories from other families, Scott realized the isolation of families in similar situations was overwhelming for many.
"We have disabilities and there has to be something more. Then we started to pull in the resources both locally and at the state level," Scott said. "After finding out more about one resource, we started to find more and more resources that we didn't know about before. Eventually, we were pulling families in and having guest speakers to make sure those families were getting the help they needed."
Scott started an online support group, which now has around 180 members on Facebook in February 2017. For more information on the Autism Support Group of St. Croix Valley, visit www.autismsupportgroup.org.