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Bark’s Bytes #3 | Thanks


Jeni is a young lady that enrolled at Merrick in 2007, just after graduating from a school transition program.  Currently, she does not work, which may seem odd for a person so young, and is very involved in the many therapeutic activities available here.  When Jeni first came to Merrick she was having difficulty going 100 feet in her gait trainer and, in less than six months, has now progressed to a distance of 1000 feet, three times a week.  Her body strength has improved dramatically and staff are in awe of her progress.  Always sassy and a social butterfly, Jeni is active in self-advocacy, which has helped her to meet new friends and learn the power of her voice.  As much as she loves to be social, Jeni is also very comfortable doing an activity alone or sitting next to someone listening to music.  It is not uncommon to see her doing something different every time you see her throughout the day.  She loves working in the greenhouse and helps with watering, cutting, and planting; and seems to have developed quite a green thumb.  We continue to support Jeni through the Alternative Services area in our DT&H program; and her charisma, independence, and perseverance, along with the love she has for people, makes others seek her out when they need a hug and smile to know everything is going to be okay.

Jerry is deaf and was referred to Merrick while still in school.  When our staff went to meet Jerry, school staff working with him wore metal-plated gloves because he had a history of biting and reportedly had severely injured someone’s hand.  We were also told of his severe aggression and property destruction that would prohibit him from working off-site.  Despite this history, we admitted Jerry and chose not to use the metal-plated gloves thinking that this may be a catalyst to the behavior and not the answer to the biting problem.  We quickly learned that much of Jerry’s behavior was due to his need to communicate with others, understand his environment, and know what was expected of him.  As it turned out, the biting was better addressed through sensory integration; that providing a highly structured environment nearly eliminated property destruction; and by establishing a strict schedule, most aggression was avoided.  Staff in his area have been trained in American Sign Language and are expected to give Jerry ongoing opportunities each day to discuss important topics and to engage in sensory activities.  We know that soda is something that Jerry obsesses over and that denying him access can lead to aggression and property destruction.  As an alternative, we have given Jerry controlled access by knowing exactly when and where he will receive soda and he trusts that this schedule will not vary.  We continue to support Jerry through the Enhanced Services area in our DT&H program and we have all been enriched by his presence.  He currently works five days per week with one staff and two other clients on an off-site recycling crew going in and out of grocery stores, interacting with the public, and amazingly walking right past cases of soda on a daily basis.  He has successfully held his job for several years without injuring himself or others, and as of this month, Jerry has not needed a Rule 40 program for 18 months.

When Brian came to Merrick in the summer of 2000, he immediately knew that he wanted to work outside doing landscaping.  Brian joined an off-site crew that worked at a college greenhouse; and after many different assignments due to facility improvements, curriculum changes, and budget revisions – a potential dream job began to emerge.  The college built a veterinary medical center (VMC) and Brian was hired to clean and disinfect animal stalls and clean the general area within the clinic and hospital.  Brian and his supervisor have a close relationship referring to each other as “big brother” and “right hand man” respectively.  Brian continues to love his job and is very happy with the salary he earns.  In October 2008, Brian, his supervisor, and the VMC were recognized by the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities for being an innovative employer.  We continue to support Brian through the Individual Services area in our DT&H program.  In the future, Brian wants to get his driver’s license and buy a truck with a plow so he can run a side business in the winter, plowing parking lots.

Sovanny has had many dreams in her life.  In recent years, many of those dreams have come true.  Due to her severe hearing loss and brittle diabetes, few thought she would be able to be “independent.”  However, Sovanny has learned more about diabetes through the Diabetes Expo and the Diabetes Association Convention.  She has become empowered over the management of her own health by monitoring her insulin pump and sugar readings, and has continued to be in stable health by exercising and eating well.  Sovanny is also a strong advocate for disability rights and has received letters from President Bush, Governor Tim Pawlenty, Senator Norm Coleman, and the Diabetes Association, praising her support of bills to revise the ADA.  She also is in the process of setting up a meeting with Governor Pawlenty and is working on her “elevator speech” along with a longer written presentation.  Sovanny was excited to be a first-time voter in the 2008 general election.  Sovanny also recently became the President of one of Merrick’s self-advocacy groups with hopes to share her knowledge and grow as a leader.  In the professional world, Sovanny has always been interested in beauty and is a member of a crew placed in an upscale salon.  We continue to support Sovanny through the Off-Site Services area in our DT&H program; and she works twenty hours per week, with eight of these hours working independently from the crew, and hopes to work-up to a goal of four eight-hour days.  Sovanny has taught salon employees sign language and has mastered her SideKick to help her communicate.  Sovanny also assisted salon stylists during the Raffa show at the Myth and will begin classes at Century College in January 2009 to be a Nail Tech.  Personally, Sovanny recently returned from a vacation to Hawaii (it’s the Bahamas next year) and she’s looking forward to eventually getting her driver’s license.  Also, Sovanny says, “I am working out twice a day at home and am looking like a female wrestler!”  In addition, she would like to live in an apartment, get married, and have children.  Sovanny is proof that advocacy, hard work, persistence, creativity, and not settling for the answer “no” can get you a long way in life.

Katie McDermott had a bit of a rough childhood.  She has said, in part, that due to her disability she was often taken advantage of by others.  All that changed when she came to Merrick and began attending a self-advocacy group.  Soon she found herself running to be the President of one of the groups and was elected.  Katie has proven herself to be a natural leader with a very outspoken personality and was a member of the redesign team for the Metro Self Advocates of Minnesota (SAM).  Because of these traits, Katie was invited to make presentations to:  Partners in Policy Making, the Institute of Community Integration at the U of M, the Minnesota Day Activity Center Association, Advocating Change Together (ACT) and, perhaps most exciting, a SAM program in Baltimore, MD.  Just recently, Katie was asked to be a member of the ACT Board of Directors and was featured in two videos; Get Out the Vote and Offense Taken.  She is also looking to produce a program for Public Access channels talking about disability issues and self-advocacy.  We continue to support her through the Utility Services area in our DT&H program; and she works on-site which allows her to participate in many self-advocacy activities during the work day.  While her Presidency of one self-advocacy group was completed in 2008, she decided to run for the Presidency of another self-advocacy group and has been elected.

Jason has been a client at Merrick for several years and a vital part of the on-site cleaning crew.  Recently, Jason was hired by a local florist to work in their greenhouse and we now support Jason through our Supported Employment Services program.  In addition to work, Jason has been taking computer classes at Century College and attended a couple of micro-enterprise workshops with hopes to start his own computer business in the future.  Jason currently lives in his own apartment, recently got his driver’s license, and bought a car.  He is very involved in his community, particularly through his church, and also attends a weeklong religious retreat in Montana every year.  Jason is a member of the Metro Chapter of Self-Advocates of MN (SAM) and has been selected for the Partners in Policy Making leadership training program.  In the future, Jason would like to be more involved politically, get married and have kids, and travel throughout the United States.

For years Ann worked on-site at Merrick in the Utility Services area and specialized on the card contract.  Watching Ann do her work was truly amazing as it looked like she was in a fast-forward mode due to her astounding speed.  Ann wanted a job around children and this fall she accepted a position at the local YMCA where she hopes to extend her personal network of friends.  We continue to support Ann through a vendor contract in our DT&H program.  Outside of work, Ann’s real passion is fundraising for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) because she lost a dear friend to this horrible disease in 2007.  For the 2008 ALS walk, Ann raised over $500 through solicitations and organizing a bake sale.  Next year, she wants to double that amount and increase the number of walkers from five to ten.  She also would like to be on the ALS event planning committee or volunteer at next year’s walk.

When Nick came to Merrick in 2005, he began working in the afternoons with the It’s In the Bag plastic recycling crew.  It was there that he learned some important skills such as working with others, staying on task, and handling anger and frustration.  About two years later, Nick chose to pursue his interest in office work and began digital imaging documents for Merrick.  Through this experience he validated his interest in clerical tasks and acquired excellent computer skills.  In the fall of 2008, Nick was hired by the Social Security Administration to do administrative tasks.  We continue to support Nick through our Ticket To Work program; and he now takes Metro Transit to his job, works full time, earns a good salary, and has access to full benefits.  In addition to work, Nick has been certified as a Skywarn spotter and wants to be connected with his local police and fire stations to volunteer.  Nick is currently very happy with his support system of family and friends, but would like to have more acquaintances.  He also hopes to move to a safer neighborhood, own a townhouse, get his driver’s license and buy a car, join Merrick’s Safety Committee, and be more involved politically.

With resources from the Secretary of State’s Office and the MN Disability Law Center, self-advocates at Merrick have been busy all year in “get out the vote” activities.  Of the 176 clients that attended voter training programs, 127 voted (72%) and of those that voted, 48 (38%) were first-time voters.  One of the clients that voted was Scott.  At first, Scott had stated that he did not intend to vote.  Even so, he did attend an Arc Civic Engagement workshop, a MN Disability Law Center Voter Registration session, and internal self-advocacy meetings where the election was discussed.  The day after the election Scott told staff in a very deliberate and low voice, “I VOTED!”  In a subsequent conversation, Scott’s mother commented that Scott would come home and share what he was learning about the election process and decided two days before the election that he wanted to vote.  On Election Day, Scott and his mother went to the polling place together.  He enjoyed the excitement in the polling place and being able to cast his ballot for the very first time.  That evening, he watched the election results like most Americans knowing that he had cast a vote that was being tabulated to elect the next President of the United States.  Consistent with our core belief of “Civic Responsibility”, two employees of Merrick agreed to staff the central hub for “Metro Rides to the Polls” on Election Day.  This hub alone coordinated rides for 220 citizens to get to their polling place and vote.  A self-advocate also volunteered that day to be a rider.  Matt completed the training with 40 other volunteers and, for 5 hours on Election Day, rode with a driver as a rider writing down directions, assisting people at the polling place, and providing support during the transit.  At the end of the night, he commented, “I don’t want this day to end.  I am usually on the sidelines but today I made a difference in other people’s lives.  When can I do this again?”

In closing, I am pleased to be with an agency that has been part of these success stories and to know that if we listen to clients we can make a difference one person at a time and cumulatively reform the system.  I am satisfied to know that success is not singularly defined by where the client works (i.e. independent, work crew, on-site work, or on-site habilitation); it also matters that people listen to their preferences, respect their choices, and value their contributions.  Finally, I am encouraged by the remarkable supports and success stories of people with disabilities served by the many qualified providers in Minnesota.  However, mostly I am thankful that the words of our critics cannot diminish the success these individuals have achieved.

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