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Bello Machre Highlights Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month


In 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month to increase “public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities” and to provide the “encouragement and opportunities they need to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.”

Robert Ireland is the president and CEO of Bello Machre, a 52-year-old Glen Burnie-based organization offering individuals with developmental disabilities the services, opportunities and support they need to live full, independent and rich lives. Ireland has been with the organization — which now has more than 500 employees — for 43 years and can truthfully say he helped build the organization from the ground up.

“Maryland has always been a top-ranked state for providing opportunities that make life better for people with disabilities and their families,” Ireland said. “I cannot imagine another career or another place to work that gives me so much purpose.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental disabilities are defined as impairments in physical, learning, language or behavior areas, and include autism-spectrum disorders; cerebral palsy; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; learning or intellectual disabilities; hearing loss or vision impairment; and other developmental delays.

Bello Machre, which means “home of my heart” in Gaelic, provides residential services, community-based services, long-term live-in care, community-based day care, employment services, caregiver respite care, and much more. The nonprofit strives to nurture an individual’s personal goals such as higher education or professional growth through life- and trade-skills training.

“Since 1987, building awareness has been a slow process,” Ireland said. “We can declare all the special weeks and months we want, but at Bello Machre, we believe that until you’ve rubbed elbows with people with developmental disabilities and their families, you don’t have a true sense of just how valuable these people are to our communities.”

Ireland’s mother grew up in the foster care system and she instilled in her children the importance of understanding and appreciating every person. His parents adopted three children with developmental disabilities when he and his siblings were in their late teens and early 20s.

“My mother understood that acceptance comes from truly knowing someone and that cutting through the prejudice and ignorance of who you think someone is makes all the difference for the individual and for the community,” Ireland said.

Severna Park resident Tyler Shallue, a legally blind Anne Arundel Community College student with autism, whom the Severna Park Voice featured in January 2023, has been receiving personal support from Bello Machre since April 2022.

“This service is very useful to me because it allows me to pursue activities and educational opportunities. With my visual impairment, I cannot drive or otherwise transport myself to places such as school, the gym to work out, to study, play cards, or grab something to eat,” Shallue said. “Bello Machre has allowed me to pursue these activities because I have a personal support assistant who can transport me. Without this transportation, I cannot reliably commute to school or other places of interest.”

Shallue plans to graduate from AACC in December 2024. His support team at Bello Machre is already providing insight on his possible next steps.

“Bello has provided some basic information about how their residential program works, and since then, we have begun the process of talking about and brainstorming possible options for housing,” Shallue said. “In addition to my parents, whom I dearly love, I cannot be thankful enough for the services Bello Machre provides and their very good team of supportive and friendly staff.”

Ireland encourages everyone to support individuals with disabilities, not just this month, but always by making sure that they are part of the fabric of our communities by reaching out and including them in community activities or thinking about employment opportunities to share.

“Our goal is for people to see a person first, and if they have to see a disability that they see the disability second,” Ireland said. “We need a world where people with disabilities don’t feel different or less than. They should proudly announce, ‘I am worth something.’”

To learn more about the many services Bello Machre provides or to make a donation to its mission, visit www.bellomachre.org.


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