In a van-washing bay at Merrick's main program site in Vadnais Heights, a relationship between a client and longtime job coach demonstrates that communication takes many forms. Tou, a client at Merrick since 2003, experienced hardships in life including losing family members in Laos before moving to the United States. Now, he has found a home at Merrick.
Along with a developmental disability, Tou is also hearing impaired, coupled with not being a native English speaker, which could make communicating with others a frustrating experience. Through his relationship with Merrick support service staff Dan Lind, who also happens to have a hearing impairment, he has found someone willing to try. The pair communicates through a mix of American Sign Language, Hmong Sign Language, and Tou's own gestures. Just as verbal communicators come up with slang and inside jokes, so do people who communicate through signing.
Dan said about working with Tou, "He is dependable and a hard worker. I know the job is done right when Tou is on duty." His friends at work describe him as animated, strong-willed, funny, and persistent. Tou, proud of his heritage, likes to share upcoming events in the local Hmong community with staff and co-workers. He is passionate about music, art, food, dance, and sporting events from his native country. He dreams of marrying a beautiful woman and living out the American dream. Tou strongly values being a "teacher" by sharing with others about his culture and sign language. As Kao Kalia stated in The Latehomecomer; A Hmong Family Memoir, "Once we are, we will always be."---Tou has captured our hearts inspires us all to live more fully.
It is through these unique relationships between clients and staff that Merrick truly lives out its mission to empower adults with disabilities and guide them toward reaching their goals and dreams.
This year, Bobby, a client in the enhanced services program, celebrates his 30th anniversary at Merrick. Over the years, Bobby has witnessed a great deal of change at Merrick, and personally has changed as well. Upon his initial enrollment, he required a high degree of behavioral support and was isolated from others. Throughout the years, Bobby has worked with many caring supportive Merrick and home staff members who have helped him to get where he is today. Now, he jokingly interacts with his favorite staff daily. One on-going inside joke is giving them nicknames. He calls Nathaniel "Charlie" and Dede "Theresa."
With encouragement from the staff, twelve years ago, Bobby started earning his first paychecks on the crew that picked up headsets from Northwest Airlines. Today, he chooses to do his favorite job: pull tab shredding. He enjoys spending the money he earns to buy his own snacks. When asked which part of the day is his favorite, Bobby enthusiastically said, "riding the bus to work!" When he is not at Merrick, Bobby enjoys listening to the music of Johnny Cash and looking at pictures of important people in his life. He has an excellent ability to remember people from his past.
While Bobby still needs much support from Merrick staff, he has grown from a person who had minimal interactions with others, to a person who is in our hearts forever. With the right supports in place, Bobby can and has achieved much more than society may have thought possible. Bobby's story demonstrates the motto of our enhanced services program: "being prepared for daily challenges and achieving the best outcomes possible."
Some people just light up a room and Angela or “Angie” as those close to her know her by, is one of those people. She is a social butterfly and enjoys the company of others at her home in Maplewood. When visitors come over, she takes pride in showing off her beautifully decorated room and many collections. She is known to update the whole look of her room including new bedding, curtains, and fresh paint often. Thelma and Louise, the two house cats, also receive a fair share of Angela’s love and devotion.
Angela enjoys spending her free time with her parents, two sisters and their families. She participates in a yearly “girls’ weekends” with her sisters, aunts and cousins. Known to have many friends, she also participates in community activities every chance she gets. Music is another one of her passion and she is especially fond of heavy metal bands such as Def Leppard and Metallica. Her long list of other favorite activities include: listening to KDWB, watching MTV, shopping, exercising, traveling, roller-skating, swimming, walking, riding her bike, going to movies, dining out, playing basketball and bowling.
Angela has worked at the McDonald’s on Suburban Ave. in St. Paul as a Dining Room Attendant since June of 1993. She keeps the dining area clean and tidy and is a familiar, friendly, and helpful face to the regular customers. Angela has had the same supervisor, Nancy Koller, for nearly the entire time she has been at McDonald’s. Nancy has witnessed Angela’s interests and abilities grow over the years, and coaches her to be the best employee she can be.
Ginger Beatty-Jawish, Angela’s Employment Specialist from Merrick visits her on the job and admires Angela’s work ethic and independence. Angela uses Metro Mobility to get to and from work and on the occasions she is ill or has an appointment, she takes it upon herself to cancel or coordinate her rides. This August, Angela proudly received her twenty-year service award.
All who know her say, “Angie is just a joy to be around!” If you ever stop by McDonald’s on Suburban Avenue in East St. Paul, you will recognize her by her bright smile lighting up the room.
Philip is a kind, soft spoken, gentle man who was born in Miami, Florida in 1934. Philip did not attend any special education classes growing up, as they did not exist when he was a child! Instead, his loving and supportive parents hired tutors to assist with Philip's education. They even found a special private school for Philip, a challenge in the 1940's, that he was able to attend through the age of 15.
Philip's father was very involved in their community. He helped Philip get a job as a bank messenger in Miami, where he successfully worked for 20 years. During those two decades, the only time Philip missed work was when his father passed away. In 1985, Philip moved to Minnesota. He lived with his brother and sister-in-law until he moved into a supported living program in Ramsey County. He currently resides at Axis where he lives with roommates, including his significant other.
On November 16, 2006, Phillip enrolled for services at Merrick. He quickly made friends and became involved in self-advocacy. He jumps at the chance to go to the Capitol to meet with his legislators, likes to learn new things at conferences and workshops, and participates in internal self-advocacy activities. His friends value his friendships because he is quiet, sentimental, compassionate, sensitive, insightful, witty, and humble.
Currently, he works in Utility Services where he happily spends his time shredding expired pull tabs to earn spending money. He is prompt, dependable, and puts in a good day's work. Earning money, enjoying friends and family, continuing to be a learner, and having opportunities to try new ventures-----he is living the good life in his 70's!
Meet Sovanny, a member of Merrick's "I Team". In her own words: "I have been told that my smile would melt icebergs. I am a happy and wonderful lady. Having a job is very, very important to me because I need to make money and feel included in society like everyone else. I was born with cerebral palsy and a severe hearing impairment. I also have diabetes that needs to be constantly monitored by an insulin pump and blood checks---which I do as much as possible on my own. I am fluent in American Sign Language. I love to play cards, work on crafts and puzzles, and go out to eat and shopping. My dream is to live on my own, go to school, work as a salon tech or salesperson, get married, and have children. When I put my mind to things---they happen! I take pride in being INDEPENDENT."
Sovanny looks forward to attending the Linkin Park concert at this year's Minnesota State Fair. She loves to travel and has been to Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida. Her passion for taking good care of herself leads her to attend the annual Diabetes Expo in Minneapolis and local self-advocacy conferences.
She has held varied postions, but has been happily employed with Cummins/A1 Cleaning in Fridley since 2011 where she cleans conference rooms, break rooms, and bathrooms. Her employment specialist, Ginger Beatty-Jawish said, "Sovanny is awesome! She works independently, without the business supervisor always on site. Sovanny's co-workers have expressed how much they enjoy talking with her and what a great job she does."
Sovanny is a wonderful example of a client at Merrick who is doing what we call "meaningful work" defined by these five touchstones:
- Engaged in preferred tasks;
- Completed by the individual;
- In a setting of choice;
- Working desired hours;
- and satisfactory wages.
Eighteen years ago, Tom B., enrolled at Merrick. In that time, he has made numerous friends, volunteered at many Merrick fundraising events, and taken great pride in his work. In his free time, Tom loves spending time with his family. He lives in Little Canada with three other men in a group home. Some of his favorite activities include going for walks, hunting, four-wheeling, snowmobiling, spending time at the cabin, and attending bible study at his church.
Tom currently works for Beltmann Group in Roseville. He has worked for the local moving company for the past year. His duties are varied but he generally helps with cleaning of the enormous warehouse area. Tom enjoys his independence by utilizing Metro Mobility to get to and from work. He quickly made friends with his coworkers and is a big asset to the team. Tom said about his work, “I love Beltmann. People are always so nice. Looking ahead, I would always like to work at Beltmann, and someday would like to be a salesperson at Beltmann.”
One of Tom’s biggest passions is football, and especially fantasy football. Program Director Colleen Timbers and Tom share a common love of the Green Bay Packers that they proudly flaunt with anyone willing to listen! Those that know Tom say they value his friendly and fun-loving nature. He is known for putting a smile on the face of those he encounters on a daily basis.
Having a conversation with Bill is a wonderful and exhilarating experience. He is a captivating storyteller—drawing you in with his animated, witty, and positive “take” on life. Bill is a think tank. He generates ideas with ease whether about services, politics, environment, travel, transportation, the Pinewood Derby, or the community of North St. Paul. At 55 years of age, he has a perceptive and worldly personality and a strong sense of volunteerism.
Currently, Bill attends Adult Day Services (ADS) located in North St. Paul. Even though he attends only one day per week, he has a tremendous presence. It is not unusual to find Bill reading a favorite book to a peer who is not able to read, and he brings others priceless and joyful moments with his kindness. Prior to ADS moving to the new site last July, Bill was one of the key people developing a wish list for the space. He gathered input from the other ADS clients as well. Whether it was paint colors, carpet, flooring, activities, supplies, room functions, or furniture, he was invested in the process. On the first day at the new site, he had tears in his eyes because many items on the wish list became a reality.
Every other Friday, Bill and Leo, a volunteer, venture out to businesses in downtown North St. Paul where Bill introduces himself, learns about their business, and shares information about ADS. He is the designated “ADS Ambassador”. He keeps track of the “pulse” of the city while informing the citizens of NSP about ADS. Bill has developed some incredible contacts and relationships in the community through showing others his curious, fun, and sociable personality.
Bill comes from a very supportive family who are civically engaged in their communities whether it is here in Minnesota or in Washington DC. Bill has plans to host a workshop for employers to learn about hiring people with disabilities and share ideas on collaborating. He also wants to continue to meet with the citizens of North St. Paul to promote community building. There is no doubt that Bill is a catalyst for change. He feels he brings experience and diversity to ADS. Bill is always looking at how to make the world a better place, which he already does and will continue to do just by being himself.
Betsy W. came to Merrick two and a half years ago and has been impressing staff and peers alike with her independence, giving spirit, and self-confidence. Betsy is part of the Individual Services or “I-team” at Merrick that supports job development, job placement, community integration, expanding social networks, and participation in self-advocacy activities. Betsy’s full schedule of working, volunteering in her community, and self-advocacy demonstrate the focus of the I-team perfectly.
Along with living in her own apartment, Betsy takes care of her own needs by independently scheduling her transportation with Metro Mobility. She is self-sufficient in all housekeeping, bill paying, and shopping. She even manages her own health needs requesting refills when needed and picking up her medication from her local pharmacy.
On the job front, Betsy works two days a week on the work floor at Merrick doing piece-rate jobs. She also has two weekly volunteer gigs, one at The Cathedral of St. Paul where she irons, folds, and puts away cloths for Mass; organizes and cleans the supplies in the pews; and does general tidying in the sanctuary. In February, she took on a second volunteer opportunity at United Hospital. At the hospital, she works on special projects like putting together informational packets for various areas within the hospital. She loves giving back and being involved in her community. She hosts a weekly prayer group in her own home, sings in the choir at church, and attends Mass every Sunday.
Betsy attends weekly self-advocacy meetings at Merrick and went to the State Self-Advocacy Conference in April. She is a shining example of someone who believes in herself showing others what is possible and is a true role model for those seeking independence and involvement in their community.