There is a plan and a purpose, a value to every life, no matter what its location, age, gender or disability. – Sharron Angle
There have been a number of recent TV news stories featuring special needs kids in high school settings. We get those stories every year, because the news department producers at the local stations know that they make for good, emotional TV.
So we see a story on the special needs girl who is elected Homecoming Queen and most recently the special needs boy who is a high school seniors and was allowed to catch a pass and run to score a touchdown in his last high school football game – all reported, of course, on TV.
Those are heart-tugging, feels-good moments and I’m sure that we’ll see many more. They do represent good TV and they show the good intentions that are in the hearts of the classmates at the schools involved. For those kids it was a great day. As children, most probably had their parents hovering somewhere in the background, doing for them all of the things that needed to be done, making decisions and helping with everyday living. But what happens next? Where is that prom queen or that football hero the next year or 5 or 10 years later. They didn’t go away, they just got forgotten.
Where do they live now and how do they get by when the adult caretakers in their homes are no longer there. There is almost no news coverage of their adult lives; no stories of them working as a bagger at a local grocery store or sorting items at a Goodwill resale shop. Who helps them with the challengers of day-to-day living, such as managing their money or dealing with illnesses? Who is there when they are ill? We take for granted our ability to make all of the decisions that day-to-day living demand, but what if those decisions were a big mystery to you and day-to-day life maybe a bit confusing or scary? What if mom and dad were no longer there to help with those things?
As a society we have largely turned a blind eye to the special needs of these people once they have grown out of childhood. Governments tend to want to just throw money their way, but not be responsible for any of the details of how their needed services are provided or by whom. The old mental institutions of the past were dismantled (which was probably a good thing) and the adults who used to be housed in them were sent out into the community to fend for themselves.
Sure, there are still government programs aimed at providing assistance, but many are largely funding sources and not sources of needed services. Those programs are the “compassionate conservative” way of dealing with our own conscious; sort of a modern equivalent of the phrase “let them eat cake.” The modern version might be, “here, take this money and go away, please.”
But they don’t go away. They are still here, living as adults in our communities and trying to fit in as best that they can. Most of us don’t think about them and how they get by or even what their needs might be. We’d prefer to look the other way, rather than look their way. Fortunately there are groups like Supportive Alternative Living (S.A.L.) that are run by people like Patricia Peters, Executive Director, who do care and do think about what they need and then go out and do something about providing for those needs. S.A.L. provides the kind of support and integration services and training that are needed by the special needs adults in our communities, to allow them to function better within the society. That starts with helping find them a place to live and goes on to making the lives that they are living as rich and rewarding as possible. S.A.L. is the embodiment of the phrase, “it’s not a hand out, but a hand up”.
From their Web site – www.sal-milford.org – comes this explanation of the Mission and services rendered by the organization.
Supportive Alternative Living provides the least restrictive environment possible to maximize the social growth of our residents. We assist each resident while they integrate into their community, and develop interdependence with people who are important to them. Relationships and support of a variety of people will continue throughout their lifetime with the involvement and support of this organization.
S.A.L. accomplished that mission through the services in its Supportive Independent Program, which they explain –
This Supportive Independent Program (SIP) was developed in September 1989 as a pilot program to enable developmentally disabled adults to move into their own homes and to live, work and worship in the community of their choice. Milford has proven to be a wonderful, supportive, and caring community.
We provide a variety of living arrangements for consumers/clients wanting to live a normal adult life, living in their own home, either with a roommate, spouse or alone.
Staffing is provided according to the individual needs required. The role of staff is to teach problem-solving and give support. Staff is trained to understand professionalism, confidentiality, and their role as teacher. We emphasize the importance of teaching the client how to discover resources for themselves.
In day-to-day terms that means that S.A.L. helps locate housing and helps manage the funds that might be available to the adults to pay for that housing and for their day-to-day needs. It also means helping them find appropriate work or ways to spend their time. Since the spectrum of what is covered under the term “special needs” is very broad, the range and types of services rendered must also be very broad.
Much of the funding to provide for day-to-day living does come from various governmental programs; however procuring and managing those funds takes a lot of effort and is not something that the clients of these programs can do for themselves. In addition, some of the funding for those programs has been impacted by government program cuts just like everything else. Unfortunately, the needs of the S.A.L. clients don’t change with the political whims of those in office at any time. So, groups like S.A.L. try to make up for the funding shortfalls by writing grant requests and soliciting funds through charitable donations. You can donate to S.A.L. at their web site – http://sal-milford.org/donate/ and give as little as $10/month to help them continue their mission.
Supportive Alternative Living is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which allows deductions for federal income tax purposes.
So, if the story about the special needs homecoming queens or the football hero for a night tugged at your heart, take a moment to think about where they will be in 10-15 years and who will be caring about them and for them then. You can help today the women or men who were in those roles in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. They didn’t go away. They’re still here. You may see them on the street; but, you just don’t see them on the news anymore. You can still make their days better by supporting organizations like S.A.L. with your donations. If you want to do even more, there is information at the S.A.L. web site about how to volunteer or become “staff”; or you can call 248-685-2639 and talk to them about what you might be able to do. The key here is not to just think about it; but, rather to start doing something about it.
The hallmark of a healthy society has always been measured by how it cares for the disadvantaged. – Joni Eareckson Tada