Just Another Day at Work – disAbled employees can be your best asset

Janice at the Farm When my developmentally disabled sister finished her formal schooling way back in 1983, the next challenge was to find her a job. Fortunately, the people tasked with this found an amazing organization located in Tacoma, WA called L’Arche Farm and Garden. You can read more about them here:
http://www.larchetahomahope.org/LarcheTahomaHope/FarmGardens.html. I blogged about them in a previous post.

My sister was fortunate to have such a great group of people to work with, but in reality L’Arche Farm and Garden was blessed to have such a great employee. This is the case for the many employers who welcome those with disabilities into their workforce. Of course, every person is different, but in general those with disabilities really enjoy having meaningful work to do. They have great attitudes and look forward to going to work each day. They want to contribute and love earning their own paycheck.

If you are concerned about helping your loved one with special needs find work as an adult, don’t give up hope. It may take awhile, but there are employers and great organizations to help you find just the right work environment for your child. Every state is different, but check with your local Department of Developmental Disabilities or the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. Of course, Goodwill and ARC are two other great organizations that work hard to provide jobs and training to the disabled.

In the meantime, you can help prepare your child by teaching them a good work ethic at home. Involve them as much as possible in the daily chores around the house. Show them that work can be fun and rewarding. Help them develop a great attitude about life and learning new things. You never know what small, mundane task they learn may lead to future employment opportunities for them.

Here is another great article reprinted from L’Arche Farm and Gardens Newsletter that shows what a great attitude disabled employees bring to work.

“The morning meeting is in full swing, and all of us are sitting around a table in our newly painted break room, the walls as yellow as a blooming daylily. We’re finishing up our prayers. I say, ‘For these prayers and the ones we hold deep in our hearts, we say a big…’

‘AMEN!’

It’s Janice Evanger leading the response, her arms flung up in the air. She’s got the spirit in her, a fire in her belly that flares up all the time. Just yesterday, when we were in the fields, I hollered out that it was time for lunch. Janice called back, “All right!” and pumped her fist. It’s times like these that keep the rest of us going, when she shares that fire with us, the fire that’s brighter than our yellow barn walls.

Her energy extends into every dimension of her work, particularly her favorite jobs – ripping the paper for our journals, seeding for the spring, and shelling beans with Carrie Little at Mother Earth Farm. Perhaps you’ve seen her at the Tacoma Farmer’s Market on Thursdays, smiling broadly and handing out flyers. Janice is the first one to ask about work for the day, both before and after lunch. Her enthusiasm is remarkable, particularly because she was the first core member hired by the farm, way back in the mid 1980’s.

For how hard she works, it’s no surprise she plays hard, too. Just recently, she spent a week’s vacation in Reno with her mother and aunt, playing with the big rollers. (Last year in Reno, she tripled her money – from $2 to $6.)

And, if you’re looking to take Janice out to dinner, don’t schmooze your way into the Sea Grill – look no further than McDonald’s, where she’ll be enjoying a chicken sandwich. Favorite television show? Cops.

Citizen Academy 1

Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when Janice Evanger works for you? Get some good work done, that’s what.

But, her favorite thing to do on the farm? No contest: it’s soaking Pat Toohey when a waterfight breaks out. For this blue-collar gal, it’s all in a day’s work.”

If you are looking for an employee to add to your workforce, consider hiring a disabled adult. Not only will you be getting a great employee, their enthusiasm for the job may just set your team on fire!

Living a Life that Matters – How Your Example is Changing the World

Parenting is hard work on a good day, but add a disabled child in the mix and it can become arduous and easily overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, parenting is one of the biggest blessings and most fulfilling things I have ever done in my life. But, let’s be honest, some days it is just plain hard work.

Faced with the challenges of raising a large family and a disabled child in the 1960’s when resources for the disabled were pretty much non-existent, my mother could have given in to depression and despair. Oh, I am sure she had her moments. But, for the most part, my mother chose to move forward in life with hope for the future while finding joy in the little things in life. She did the best that she could for her family, and especially my disabled sister. It wasn’t easy, but she just kept moving forward. Every time life knocked her down, she got back up and tried again.

mom 5/31/11

If you asked my mom, she would say that she didn’t do anything special. She thinks her life hasn’t had much of an impact outside her own family, but I am here to tell you that she is wrong.

Last summer, my sister’s and I gathered at my mom’s house for a weekend garage sale. It was really just an excuse to spend time with my mom, and sit around and visit all day. We sold very little, but we had a great time all weekend. One of the few people who stopped by the garage sale, was a close friend from high-school, Carol Collister.

Carol Collister

Carol and I didn’t get to see one another very often, but we kept in touch and she still lived in the old neighborhood. When she stopped at the garage sale that day Carol did something extraordinary. Carol told my mother that it was because of her example working with my disabled sister that Carol chose to work with autistic children. She said my mom was her inspiration. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about how special that moment was for my mother. The words Carol spoke gave validation to my mother that only before had she heard from her family.

A little over a week ago, I learned that Carol was in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. I was shocked and thought she must have been in a car accident. I later learned that the cancer she had fought for so many years had come back again. There was nothing more the doctors could do for her.

When I called to share the sad news with my mother, she told me she already knew. A few weeks prior, mom was outside working in her garden and she heard a car horn toot and turned to see Carol smiling from her car. She sang “Happy Birthday” to my mom and they visited for awhile. They laughed together because it wasn’t my mom’s birthday after all. Carol told my mom that her cancer had returned and she had been forced to quit her job that she loved so much working with autistic children. She advised my mom she didn’t want anyone to know about the cancer as she didn’t want people to pity her.

Carol Collister passed away on Friday. She was an amazing woman. She had the most beautiful smile and I do not exaggerate when I say she was always smiling. She had a gentle, quiet spirit and was a sweet, sweet soul. Though she had fought cancer for years, she didn’t feel sorry for herself or give in to despair. She lived a life that mattered and her life was rich in relationships. She touched the lives of countless autistic children and also many international students whom she welcomed into her home.

Carol’s loving spirit will go on in the lives of those she touched and impacted with her love and graciousness. I can’t wait to see how Carol’s example changes the world through the lives of her friends and students.

Never forget that your life matters. You are setting an example every day for the world around you. If you are lucky, one day someone like Carol will come and let you know what an impact you have made in their life.

Book Review: “Life Not Typical, How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song” by Jennifer Shaw

I was lucky enough to come across Jennifer Shaw’s book in my local public library. Score! The book is a beautifully written and honest description of her journey with her special needs son, Toby. From the first hints that something was wrong with their little boy, she describes the challenges she and her husband faced as they sought to find a diagnosis and treatment for their son. It is a testimony to the importance of early intervention in the lives and future success of each special needs child. Jennifer’s son is eventually diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, but this book is encouraging to any parent of a special needs child, regardless of their diagnosis.

Jennifer’s story is also a testament to the grace of God to meet us in every situation and to give us the hope and faith to go on. I highly recommend this book to any parent. After you read it, be sure to give it to a friend or relative. They will gain insight into your world as a special needs parent.

You can read more about Jennifer and her book here: http://jennifershaw.com/life-not-typical.

L’Arche Farm and Gardens – Growing People, Growing Plants

Janice and friend at The Farm L’Arche Farm and Gardens is an awesome organization in Tacoma, Washington that provides employment to the developmentally disabled. They work on the farm and in the greenhouse and grow plants and vegetables. They make wreaths at Christmas time, work in the craft shop making handmade paper, and sell their wares at the local Farmer’s Market. The staff and volunteers are wonderful. My younger sister Janice worked there for over twenty years. It was a wonderful experience for Janice and she was very proud to be earning a paycheck. She was a great worker, as our parents instilled a great work ethic in all their children, no matter our abilities or disabilities. No excuses! Janice had to retire a few years ago due to increasing medical problems. It was a real loss for her, and I think for her teammates at L’Arche Farm and Gardens, too.
Recently I contacted the Program Manager at L’Arche Farm and Gardens to ask permission to reprint one of their newsletter articles about Janice. I was pleasantly surprised at the sweet response I got back inquiring about how Janice and my mother were doing. (I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because this is just the kind of people that run Farm and Gardens.) They also graciously granted me permission to reprint their article. Warmed by their response, I asked if it would be possible for me to bring my mother and Janice out to the Farm for a visit some time, and they welcomed us to stop by for a visit. When I told Janice her immediate response was, “When can we go?” She will probably drive mom and I a little crazy until we get her out there for a visit, but that’s okay with me. I love seeing her excitement.
If you live in the Tacoma area, stop by and check them out. If you are looking for a worthy place to make a charitable donation, you can’t go wrong with L’Arche Farm and Gardens. Check out their website for lots of great pictures and information. http://www.larchethc.org/FarmGardens/FarmGardens.html

Cultivating a Sense of Humor in Your Child

Janice at the FarmHaving a sense of humor is a great asset in life. If we can teach our children to be positive and learn to make life fun, then they can face any challenge that comes their way.

My mother has a naturally positive outlook. It’s not that nothing bad has ever happened to her. She certainly has had her share of heartache and disappointments. Mom chose to accept the fact that sometimes things can go horribly wrong. She has learned to accept the little and the sometimes not so little bumps in the road of life, and not let them steal her joy. She tries to find the good in every situation.

Mom worked to pass this same philosophy on to her children, especially her disabled daughter, Janice. While Janice only functions at the age of an eight year old, she was smart enough to know that she was different from other kids. Mom worked tirelessly to help Janice not only reach her full potential in life, but to accept her limitations and learn to find fun and laughter wherever she could.

The following is reprinted with permission from the Farm Facts Newsletter from http://www.larchethc.org/LarcheTahomaHope/FarmGardens.html where Janice worked for twenty years. It’s a great example of the impact of my mother’s positive attitude on Janice.

Shootin’ the Breeze with Janice Evanger

“Remember around ten years ago when every new Jim Carey movie left us with a handful of fresh catchphrases – from ‘Ssssmoking!’ to ‘Alrighty then!’ – until you had to go see the next one just to keep on top of things? Well, Janice Evanger has become our own comedy superstar, loading the farm up with an endless series of jokes and one-liners that we can’t get out of our heads. From her harrowing yet colorful accounts of the previous night’s episode of Cops to her lunchroom banter (for the uninformed, the Tuna Fish Sandwich is the preeminent lunch item, to trounce anything from fair-burgers to gourmet lasagna in a war of comparison), Janice is keeping us in healthy stitches. Just ask her what year she was born and she’ll say, “Well, I don’t remember, it’s been so long.” Ever hear a Farm and Garden’s member respond to a piece of your good news with “Lucky!”, or shout “What!?” at a surprising revelation? Both, you can be assured are Janice-esque word choices. But, the delivery is all her own, never to be reproduced.

From where does she draw her comedic inspiration? It may be the heaping scoop of instant coffee that gets stirred without fail into a mug-full of hot water after both breakfast and lunch; it may come as she tears journal pages in the craft room, or as she fills pots in the greenhouse. Or, it may come during the lighter moments, when Janice, always eager for play, gets a mischievous spark in her eye and instigates a water fight wherever water can be had. We do not know where Janice develops her material, or if it is all improvised. Either way, we are grateful.

In a previous life, Janice was a radio announcer for 97.3 KBSG, during which time she was able to memorize every single song written between January 1, 1960 and December 31, 1979. Her act is not limited to jokes, ladies and gentleman: she’s go those songs down. But, radio wasn’t enough for Janice, and she had to depart in order to come work with us, where she has been since 1987.

Next time you call the Farm, cross your fingers and your call just might be answered, “L’Arche Farm and Gardens, this is Janice Evanger, how can I make your day?”

That awesome positive attitude was something my mother worked to instill in Janice every day. Remember, this is the child that the doctor said would never walk or talk and should just be left in an institution. My mother’s positive outlook and determination proved him wrong. Help your child learn to face life’s challenges with a sense of humor. A great attitude will take you far in life.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

morrison xmasFor most of us, Mother’s Day brings thoughts of love and thankfulness for the mother who gave us life and raised us. For my sweet, gentle husband, Mother’s Day evokes a different set of emotions entirely.

Raised by a frustrated single mom who nursed a harem of hurts and anger toward her ex-husband, she regularly took that anger out on her children. Screaming verbal abuse, slapping, kicking; she shattered childhood innocence and trampled their precious souls. Little did she know that physical scars may heal, but mental and emotional scars last a lifetime.

Experts tell us that breaking the cycle of abuse is extremely difficult. I am here to tell you that with God’s help and your determination, it can be done. You are not destined to repeat the mistakes of your parents.

My husband and his siblings grew up to be productive citizens and college graduates with successful careers. That they survived and thrived is a testament to God’s grace and their determination to have a better life.

At a young age my husband purposed in his heart to become the kind of father that he never had. I have learned much from him about unconditional love and forgiveness. Our children’s lives were touched by a grace that he never experienced as a child. He broke the cycle of abuse and generations of our family will be different because of it.

God gave us two wonderful children to raise and my husband poured his life into them. He used their childhood as an opportunity to provide them with all the things he missed out on growing up. Oh, I don’t mean material things. I mean the love and security every child so desperately desires.

I write this to offer hope to those who have experienced childhood abuse. God loves you. You can break the cycle of abuse and change your life with God’s help. My husband wants me to tell you that God is good. Joel 2:25 says, “For God has restored the years the locust has eaten.”

The Magic of Music

Janice 1963The benefits of musical therapy are well documented today, but back in 1961 it was a different story. Musical therapy had been used to help soldiers returning from World War I and World War II who suffered from emotional trauma, but not so much for children.

That same year, when the specialist informed my mother that her youngest daughter, Janice, was brain damaged, probably blind and would never walk or talk, she refused to believe him. My mother, all 5’2” and 120 pounds of her flatly told him he was wrong. “I know she can see!” They never returned to that specialist again.

My parents brought Janice home to the family and decided, “We’ll just do the best we can for her.” They treated her like they treated the rest of us and involved her in all the family activities. My mother loved music and got it in her head that music might stimulate Janice’s brain. She kept a transistor radio near Janice, set to a local Seattle station and played music constantly for her. She sang and read to Janice from her infancy.

Janice didn’t speak until she was three years old. Her first words were “KJR Seattle channel 95”, the radio station she had listened to for so many years. Janice responded to music so much better than the spoken word that my mother would put her conversation with Janice to song. For instance, the nursery rhyme “Polly Put the Kettle On” became “Janice put your shoes on, Janice put your shoes on, Janice put your shoes on, We’re going to the store”.

Throughout her childhood Janice memorized and sang the words to hundreds of songs. She memorized the books we read to her and if we tried to skip a page, she would call us on it immediately. As an adult, she spoke before the Washington State Legislature on behalf of adults with disabilities.

There are several lessons from this story. 1) Doctors are human and make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. No one knows your child as well as you do. 2) Music really is magic and can touch even those deemed unreachable. 3) And as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up”.

Today we have wonderful technology to help the disabled who can’t speak for themselves. iPad’s are just one piece of that technology.

What has helped you reach your child? I’d love to hear your story.

GoBabyGo…it’s all about mobility

GoBabyGo…it’s all about mobility

I saw this story on the news tonight.  Researchers at the University of Delaware are making mobility for disabled kids affordable. It is wonderful to see people coming up with inexpensive ways to help children with mobility problems get around.  They even provide directions for parents to build a mobility device on their own.  http://www.udel.edu/gobabygo/ It reminded me of the ingenuity my family used when raising my developmentally disabled sister.  In the 1960’s there weren’t any therapy toys or aides.  My sister struggled with fine motor skills, so an uncle invented a therapy board for her to use.  He soldered different sizes of bolts onto a flat piece of metal.  My sister’s job was to find the correct sized nut and screw it onto the bolt.  It was quite ingenious and she used it for many years.  It really did improve her hand/eye coordination.  Parents of special needs children are relentless in finding ways to provide the therapy their child needs. 

The Ultimate Comeback Kid

Janice at Pacific BeachThis is a picture of my sister taken a few years ago. Yep, she is the one that the doctor said would never walk, talk, sit up or do anything a normal child would do. He further advised my devastated parents to put her in an institution and forget about her. This was common practice in the early 1960’s. Clearly this doctor did not know my parents, or my sister, Janice.

My mother refused to accept the doctors prognosis and set to work to prove him wrong. It was a struggle as there were no support groups for parents of special needs children, no agencies to provide services, and no family living nearby. My parents also had five other children at home at the time, all needing their time and attention.

How did my mom do it? One day at a time. She could not afford to look down the road to the years of struggle ahead. What an overwhelming prospect that would have been! Instead, she chose to take each day as a gift, an opportunity to bring Janice one step closer to reaching her full potential, whatever that might be. There were many setbacks along the way, but my mom never gave up and neither did Janice.

With love, ingenuity, faith and determination, my mother changed the world for Janice. My sisters and I were blessed to see my mom in action every day. She modeled love, self-sacrifice and devotion on a daily basis. We learned unconditional love and compassion at her feet. We are better people because of it.

I see so many parents of special needs kids who are doing the same thing today. God bless them all. They are my heroes. If you are struggling today, don’t give up! You are doing an amazing, life-changing job. Your child, your family and your world will never be the same.