GETTING TO KNOW OUR WAITRESS … Enjoying lunch at Pizza Rustica in Columbus, during their visit there for Ohio Developmental Disabilities Awareness and Advocacy Day, these folks were blessed to have the same waitress three times. The fun of connecting with her led to this great photo. Seated are Paulding County advocates Gale Mansfield and Krystal Albright. Standing from left to right are Williams County advocates Olivia Sandoval and Becca Rebecca, Community Connections Coordinator and SSA Jessica Reinhart, Williams County advocate Kristin Herman, their waitress Amerah, and Williams County advocate Farra Eaton. “And a good time was had by all!” (PHOTO BY REBECCA MILLER, STAFF)
By: Rebecca Miller
On State Rt. 15, just east of Montpelier is a place called The Enrichment Center. The people who work there are devoted to making sure that everyone they serve gets to have a full and happy life, plugged into their community. Director of Community Services for the Board of Developmental Disabilities, Heidi Hull, and the rest of the staff there feel strongly that it is important not to label anyone with a disability.
“They are people,” Hull said. “The reason it is hard to settle on a word to call people with a disability, is because they are all labels. We support people who have disabilities and we want to remove the barrier that sometimes is seen there.”
Dennis Myers, the Director of Early Childhood Services put it this way, “When you form a relationship with someone with a disability, it is just like a friendship with anyone else! Don’t look at them as someone with a disability, but as a person. We need to move toward knowing them by their name, not by what they have as a disability.”
“Advocate” is the word that Advocacy Advisor and Community Inclusion Specialist Joan Miller chooses to use for all the people that she serves. “They are all advocates for all who have developmental disabilities, or for themselves and others. “
“Every time that they are around other people, they are advocating by their lives, to be understood and accepted just like everyone else. They are people. My role is to encourage everyone to see each person with a disability as a person just like everyone.”
Miller went on to explain that people with a disability have things to learn just as everyone has things to learn. “They can do a lot and we want the community to know that,” she said, adding, “I have told the people I work with that someday I will retire.”
“That will not change the fact that they are my friends. I will be involved with them after I retire. I am not going to someday just drop out of their lives. They are my friends and that is how I introduce them to others.”
One of the great things that has begun to happen in Williams County is that since groups and individuals from The Enrichment Center programs have been out in the community volunteering and helping, Miller has begun to get calls asking if she can send some people to help them with events.
“My job is to get them into the community, making connections, volunteering, and getting involved. I am seeing more and more acceptance and that is wonderful.” Miller, Myers and Hull were all present at the Courthouse for the Proclamation, by the County Commissioners, of March being Developmental Disabilities Month and were thrilled to see how many came to hear it read and to be in the picture on the steps. Superintendent Jennifer Basselman was also there, receiving the Proclamation along with Advocate Jonthen Emmons.
“Our superintendent, Jennifer Basselman, is a phenomenal leader,” Heidi Hull shared. “She is totally committed to our mission. It feels like she has always been here even though she just came last summer.”
Concerning that mission, Hull explained, “Our mission is helping people live the life they choose in a community where everyone belongs. We want to address living in a way that we all fit. Be open and accepting – be open to friendships.”
“They are just like any of us. They want to belong to clubs and groups! Invite them to participate. Be friends to the people you already know. Have an ability first mindset, which means focusing on what people can do rather than on what they can’t do.”
During the week of March 4, 2020, Joan Miller took a group of people to Columbus for the Development Disabilities Awareness and Advocacy Day for the state of Ohio. People go from all across the state, coming together for speakers who share how they are succeeding in their world. It is a very encouraging time for all.
The group toured the state house and heard about the original seal, and some possible changes coming to the seal. They heard about the architecture and got to see the hearing rooms for senate and representatives. The Williams county DD people got to volunteer their time to help at the Registration Tables.
Miller explained that this was her ninth time to go and she always tries to take four or five who have never gotten to go. This year was the third or fourth time that the group got to volunteer, and they loved getting to contribute to the day.
She takes them to stay at the Sheridan, right across from the State House, the night before. They do something fun together that night, like dinner and a video. The next day, they walk to the statehouse as they have easy access. The event is one full day and they enjoyed dining out together as well as being at the State House.
Myers has recently started something called Saturday Squad which is held from 9-2 one Saturday a month. Kids between the ages of 6 and 15, who have qualified for services can attend. Myers shared that they started it for two reasons, one is to give parents a day of respite, and the other is to keep kids doing what they learned at the Summer Enrichment Program.
“That is held twice a week for the month of July,” Myers said. “Nothing academic, all enrichment type things to connect them with the community. We want them feeling good, contributing to others, also to help them start working on independent living skills.”
“They help clean up the rooms at New Hope Church where they meet. We don’t want them to be only consumers, but to realize they are contributors, also. For example the Saturday Squad, their name by the way, made Christmas cards and took them to Hillside Nursing Home, and Valentine cards for senior citizens. Last summer they painted rocks and hid them around Bryan.”
During their time together, even though they do have a lot of fun and receive a great deal, the staff want them to see that it is important to Give, not just receive. Sometimes the group goes on Field Trips, such as bowling, movies and to see how pizza is made at Wyse Guys Pizza where they get to eat some afterwards.
Sometimes others come to them, such as when the Toledo Zoo comes and does a program. Needless to say, it is a fun day that helps everyone involved.
The Proclamation given by the Williams County Commissioners, naming March 2020 as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in Williams County and recognizing the week of March 2, 2020 as Developmental Disabilities Advocacy Week should be just a spring board for all who take the time to read these articles and the Proclamation!
So remember, as the proclamation says, “from this month forward” “take the time to get to know individuals with developmental disabilities and what they have to offer.”
Rebecca can be reached at email@example.com