Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Mosaic in South Central Iowa

Dear Santa, I know what I want for Christmas

By Sandra Knebel Staff Writer

Dear Santa. What I want for Christmas is for people in the community to recognize me as a person of worth. I want help in pursuing my interests, job opportunities, and social acceptance. Mosaic has helped me identify my wishes and goals, but they need help to create experiences for me to discover my possibilities. Thank you. I am a person with disabilities.

According to Scott McLin, the Community Relations Manager for Mosaic in Chariton and Osceola, the Christmas and all-year-long wish of the people Mosaic serves is to not only discover the possibilities for a full life, but to experience those possibilities. “Most people take their health for granted,” he said. “If they want to go out to dinner or on a vacation, they can without assistance. But there are those that can't. Through no choice of their own, they are physically and/or mentally disadvantaged. No one would choose to have a disability. It is what life has dealt them. “When we have the ability to brighten someone's day who is in the disability group and make their life better, we should do it. This holiday season, I am asking everyone in the community, individuals and businesses, to play Santa Claus and give the gift of an opportunity for one of the 25-30 people in Chariton that Mosaic serves.” Libbi Smith puts the punch in McLin's statements. “When people look at me, I want them to see beyond the piece of equipment that I use to get around. Don't treat me like I am a piece of equipment, because I am a person and I have feelings, too. And don't talk down to me. That hurts anybody with a disability. It doesn't feel good and it doesn't feel right. I understand that people might feel uncomfortable with things that I have to deal with, but I would rather they ask questions and be curious about it rather than say something that is hurtful that will be stuck in my head all day.”

Getting past the first hurdle, according to McLin, the reason many people are uncomfortable around people with disabilities is that they are not in contact with them on a regular basis. There is, perhaps unconsciously, a fear of the unknown. They also feel uncertainty with methods of communication. He provides simple solutions to both. First is an invitation to attend one of the one-hour introductory meetings over lunch at the Mosaic facility. This is an opportunity to see beyond a person's disability to who they really are. “I have always found that people make the leap, after a visit and some conversation, to see that there is a person behind the disability with likes and dislikes and a personality of their own,” McLin said. “The wall comes down. At the end of the time, visitors understand that they have the same hopes and dreams that we all have.” Again, Libbi Smith provides the backup. Her goal for 2015 is to lose some weight. For Christmas (“This may sound silly,” she says) but I would like a collection of Bibles that don't cost too much. I love to read and the more I read Bibles the more I understand and the more excited I get. I even like reading children's Bibles, so if I were blessed in this way, I would consider it such a great gift.”

The second biggest hurdle, says McLin, is overcoming the perceived communication barriers. He says the best way is to just engage in a conversation. You may have to change some of your communication habits. For instance, with someone in a wheelchair, you would naturally want to sit down and look them in the eye so you can be equals. If you reach out your hand and a handshake is something they cannot do well, then just put a gentle hand on their shoulder and say, “It is good to meet you.” There are no set rules because every situation is different depending upon the person's disability and the circumstances. In a situation where someone can't speak, communication may be by touch or hearing or pictures. Parents might remember when they tried to communicate with a young child who still had difficulty with mobility, or speaking, or understanding what they were saying. They found different ways to communicate. It's a similar concept. McLin says staff at Mosaic knows each individual well and can help with making connections to a person with disabilities. Changes that require community participation.

As the Community Relations manager of Mosaic, McLin says he is planning several new programs for 2015. Some are designed to improve the “shunned and sheltered” experiences some individuals had in group home environments or state facilities. Some are proactive programs in response to the near future when sheltered workshops, even in the Mosaic location, will become fewer and fewer. (Mousetraps are still assembled at Mosaic, but rug making is on hold due to a broken loom and there is no longer space for the can recycling that was operational in the last location on Highway 34.) Some new programs will be driven by today's social climate of inclusion versus exclusion. McLin plans to establish a community committee specifically charged with identifying activities for participation by Mosaic individuals or ways community members can contribute toward adding light to their lives. Volunteer activities are considered important in building self esteem and an individual's assessment of his or her own value and self-worth. People served by Mosaic already help with the community wide cleanup by helping at the town square. McLin says there may be possibilities to help with fish fry or other events that he hopes the committee will help identify. “Once these activities are identified,” McLin said, “then we can tailor the individual to each activity. These opportunities will also serve as community outreach in a way that will help bridge the gap between persons with disabilities and the community. This interaction will help people realize that, yes, these people are individuals and they do want to participate, be active, and contribute to the community's needs.”

Another area that McLin hopes to develop in 2015 is music. He said that if a person came to Mosaic with a guitar or any other instrument and played music, everyone would sit and enjoy that talent. It would be yet another bridge that would also brighten the day for those being served at Mosaic. McLin also believes there is employment in the community yet to be tapped for these individuals. Hy-Vee, Dr. Blong, and the hospital already employ the handicapped. “It's going to be a matter of sitting down and having a conversation with local business folks,” McLin said. “First we meet with the employer and identify what the job is going to entail; what are the job duties. A job coach will go with the individual and help them achieve those pre-set goals. Over time, when all tasks are mastered and marked off the list, the job coach's time will be less and less and the individual will be able to work on their own.” A business, perhaps a restaurant, was used as an example. There may be an opportunity for someone to come during busy times and help wipe off tables or sweep floors and wrap silverware in napkins, or change table cloths, etc. The job would be tailored to the individual's skill level and a job coach arranged. The job does not need to be full time. McLin wants to find those employers willing to find part time opportunities where an individual can come in for two to three hours for a specific task or service. Debi becomes an entrepreneur Debi's story is an example of success for an individual who has the mental abilities of a 12-14 year old girl. As with all persons served by Mosaic, when she arrived she was asked to identify what were her hopes and dreams and aspirations. Debi loves Elvis Presley and wanted to go to Elvis' home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee. Simply because of former placements and situations, it always seemed like a dream out of her reach because being in a group home or a state facility, those dreams just weren't possible.

At Mosaic, the theme is “Discover the Possibilities.” They did that with Debi. When they learned of the Graceland dream, they felt it was incumbent upon them to partner with Debi and figure out how to make her dream come true. Debi had very limited social security income. She needed a job to help reach her dream. Plus, there is value in working for a goal, even for a person with disabilities, so part of the plan was for Debi to find work so she, herself, could contribute toward her goal. Mosaic and Debi's family came up with the idea for Debi to have a small vending business at the workshop in Osceola. So on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for an hour a day, Debi went to the workshop and opened up her vending business for workers to buy chips and other snacks from her during their break. Her prices were cheaper than the machines. As an entrepreneur, Debi was able to provide a service and make a little money to put in the bank. It took three years, but Debi reached her goal and went to Memphis. She also set an example for others with disabilities. Others might think “That could never happen to me,” but it can and did for Debi. In addition to reaching the goal of going to Memphis and learning the value of working hard, it was an exercise in boosting her self-esteem and self-worth. Debi has a new goal, of course. She wants to visit Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. While she works to build up her funds, her family is hoping that the Hershey's Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, will suffice to fulfill this dream.

Interactions can be simple, but important McLin reiterated that the community participant does not need to come in and identify the individual's needs. That has already been done. It can be as simple as just coming by for one of the hour meetings and then asking, “What is on your list of individual interests, dreams, aspirations, that I might be able to provide? This is what I have to offer. Is there someone here that can benefit from what I can offer? Can I look at the list of dreams? ” Laughing, McLin said it might be as simple as maybe a girl wanting red hair. Or an Iowa Cubs fan wanting to go to a game. It all depends upon the individuals' likes and dislikes and is all on a case by case basis. Different people like different things. “There is nothing different about that,” he said. “Our mission here at Mosaic and the charge to the community at large is to find ways to provide a full life for these people; to do something with them that they like to do; to help them accomplish something that promotes self-worth. We are trying to get people with disabilities as close as we can to the life of possibilities they might have had without their disabilities. If they want to go out to dinner, we want to have someone to take them. If they want to go Christmas shopping, we want to say we can make it happen and have someone in the community to take them. “Even with small possibilities, we are trying our best to help them have those small things that mean they can live their life more fully. The trip to the State Fair is an example of a small thing. We can always use volunteers to accompany us for that one day.” For unsupervised settings, like taking someone to church or shopping, to the movies, or other off-campus activities, simple background checks are required. In conclusion, McLin invites anyone and everyone to attend one of the 1-hour luncheon introductory opportunities to visit Mosaic and the individuals it serves. It can well be the beginning of another win-win relationship and the answer to someone's letter to Santa.

Scott McLinn can be reached at 641-342-6015 or scott.mclin [at] mosaicinfo.org. Mosaic in South Central Iowa can also be followed on Facebook.