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5 Questions with Stu: Abby Stewart, Executive Director of Embrace Delaware

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Embrace Delaware, formerly ARISE Delaware, envisions a community where individuals affected by disabilities and their families are fully supported, valued, and included in every aspect of community life. They build community through services such as respite nights, after school programs, summer camps and accessible holiday events. Even more, they provide training for businesses, organizations, schools and churches in order to equip those communities to accept and include families affected by disabilities.

Abby Stewart has been on staff with Embrace since the program began in 2012 and stepped into the Executive Director role in July of 2020. Her passion for creating welcoming and inclusive communities has helped Embrace grow exponentially and truly transform a community. Both Abby and Embrace Delaware work hard to build opportunity every day. I’m so impressed with how they’ve continued that mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did your organization shift or pivot at the start of the pandemic?

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic our organization had to pivot quickly because we had events scheduled three days after the pandemic shut everything down.  We had to get creative really quickly and go virtual before most people had figured out the best way to hold virtual events.  We had to do an event virtually, that we typically host monthly and serves over 40 families, in a way that would hold the attention of our participants.  We did it and got better at it the longer the pandemic shutdown went on.

What is the biggest or most creative way your organization adjusted to address community needs during the pandemic? 

We moved completely virtual.  The biggest thing we did was start doing drop offs at our families’ houses with activities and fun surprises for the kids that we serve.  We drove all over Kent County, Delaware delivering bags of fun.  Sometimes the items in these bags were for an online event that we hosted the weekend after deliveries were made.  Some of the items in the bags were crafts, games, toys and other fun items to keep our kiddos enjoying life during the shutdown.

The Embrace Delaware team goes virtual

How will you use what you’ve learned to continue to build opportunity in the future? 

We’ve learned the importance of community for the families that we serve.  They are already a pretty isolated population with only a few supports surrounding them, Embrace being one of them. This shows us that in the future we need to plan more events to get the whole family involved in order to create a strong community of support.

What are the organization’s top priorities going forward?

Our top priority going forward is the continual building of community around our families. We have to keep our kids engaged and understanding that we love them, even if we can’t see them in the same context as before. Additionally, creative planning continues to be one of our biggest goals.

Going forward, what are you most excited about? 

I am most excited to restart in person activities with our families that we serve and seeing our kids face to face!