The face of MHDD cuts

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If you don't have any direct experience with them, it can be hard to understand just how profound an effect Linn County's recent budget cuts have had on people who rely on Mental Health and Developmental Disability services. That's why a handful of families are speaking out, specifically about the cut to work programs.

Most of us are taught from childhood that work is an important part of becoming an adult -- a source of pride and identity -- and developmentally disabled adults in Linn County are no exception. Here are a few of their stories as written by family members:

Ron Hunt

I am a parent of a disabled worker that has been employed at Goodwill for 14 years. He just recently lost his prevocational funding due to Linn County Mental Health budget cuts. Ron is now in Day Hab through Goodwill which I am grateful for. However this move to Day Hab is not in his best interest. Ron is not able to perform at a community position and needs the Sheltered Workshop environment and safety that Goodwill provides. Ron wants to work and be productive to the best of his ability, but now that right has been taken away and I find this just plain cruel. Even if he does not understand what is happening to him, I do and I cannot be silent.

I am an advocate for my son and the many others that have been affected and the many more that will follow down this same path for years to come. I am very appreciative of past support for this issue. We as a country need to help our fellow citizens that cannot fully help themselves.

We are a group of parents that are reaching out to support our children and let them live happy productive lives to the best of their abilities.

Please support sheltered workshops!

Shirley Harris

Kristine Kleinmeyer

Our daughter Kristine is 40 yrs. old. All we ever wanted was for her was good schooling, hopefully to get a job and to fit into the community. Well she did have great schooling in Cedar Rapids, with great teachers. After graduation she went for skills training and was given a job at Goodwill here in town. She has been employed there for more than 14 years and really loves it. She fits in very well at Goodwill with the rest of the clients who have a wide range of disabilities. She loves to get her paycheck, she pays taxes and then goes out and spends the money she earned in the community.

While she has enjoyed her job her benefits are soon up for review in October. As we understand how it works now, if she does her job well she will lose it and if she does not do a good enough job she can also lose it.

With her disability Kris cannot work in the community, she cannot carry on a conversation with you and cannot answer questions and talk on the phone. Her work options are extremely limited so I ask how can anyone justify putting her out in the community and expect her to find another job. I ask what kind of future will we now have for our children? Are we turning back the clock on the progress we have made? We need to save our sheltered workshops.

Ken and Sue Kleinmeyer

Brian Branam

This is a photo of Brian Branam. He is a 37 year old young man who was diagnosed with autism at age five. After graduating from high school at age 19, he was evaluated through Vocational Rehabilitation and set up in various jobs in the community over the next two years. When it became apparent that he lacked the needed social skills to work competitively in the community, he began working at Goodwill Industries in Cedar Rapids, where he has continued to work to the present time.

Brian is fortunate that he is able to live alone and is responsible for getting himself to work with assistance from his Supervised Apartment Living staff from Linnhaven, Inc. He knows he is disabled, but he is also proud of his accomplishments. He is able to work on an enclave job with a group of other clients who work in the community with a job coach from Goodwill. Since he has been employed with Goodwill he has become more confident, more independent and able to advocate for himself as he has grown. He has recently become concerned because many of his friends at Goodwill have lost “the funding that allowed them to work.” “Don’t they know in Des Moines that we need our Goodwill jobs so we can pay our rent and buy our food?” Brian has witnessed first-hand what losing their jobs has done to his friends, in terms of their self-esteem and their level of confidence. He now lives with the additional load of anxiety wondering how soon his job will also be eliminated.

I know it is not possible for every lawmaker in the Iowa State Legislature to identify with those of us who have had the privilege of raising a child with a disability. However as a parent who has had the privilege and who watch as my child learned to be self-sufficient and who worked to help him build self-esteem and the skills needed to be a contributor to the community, I am appalled when the services that allow him to sustain those skills are eliminated by that same legislative body. I know that my son and others like him who take pride in what they can

contribute to the communities in which they live, should not be the victims of further discrimination. Balancing the state budget surely must be done without eliminating those programs that serve the weakest members of our community’s.

Tobi Branman

Brook Wagner

My daughter who has Downs Syndrome was recently discharged from her job at Options of Linn County. She has worked piece work since she was old enough. Work was her life. When she was at Aegon she was so proud, with her own cubicle she sometimes thought she was the CEO of the company. When she lost her job privileges she became very distraught and depressed.

We have always treated her as a normal member of our own family, traveling to both coasts, Disneyland and Disneyworld. We went to movie theatres, eating out and other events. Now since she has no employment, she has no money and she misses these things. My question is will she and the rest of the people who are losing their jobs settle into institution-like settings? Deterioration will soon be seen in all of them. Please don’t let this happen to our loved ones.

Janet Wagner

BethAnne and Gary Marconi

I would like you to meet my (children) young adults, BethAnne and Gary Marconi. They are 22 years old twins that graduated from Kennedy High School on May 25, 2011 and began working at Options of Linn County here in Cedar Rapids on May 26, 2011. Options is a Sheltered Workshop for people with disabilities. My twins have been diagnosed with Autism and PDD NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified). I am 62 year old widow, the children’s father died when they were four years old. I have raised them alone and advocated for them and will continue until my last breath here on earth.

Beth is very quiet and does best with routine. She has done very well at her short time at Options, due ot the great staff and good fit with her supervisor. Beth enjoys her work and her favorite job is working with the Fed Express tubes. Beth looks forward to pay day every two weeks and is so proud of her paycheck, it does not matter to her the size of her check. I do not ever want her to be denied the right to work.

Gary is more social, he always wants to help and I am quite proud of him. I am amazed at how well he does with sit down assembly line type of work. Many of his jobs involve moving around and as long as he has a job he does fine. He loves going to work and will even try to go in if he is sick. Gary also looks forward to payday and is proud when he shows me his check.

My reason for writing is currently my children are employed, but when I look at the future especially since I might not be here to advocate for them, the future does not look bright. We are seeing people we know being denied the right to work. These people want to work and should. I personally know a man who received an award for 35 years of service to Options and six months later sent to Day – Hab. This has destroyed his self-esteem, his manhood and he is

not happy anymore. On top of that he hates day – hab, he knows it is nothing more than Adult Babysitting. He does not like crafts, he does not like the outings but he did like work. It breaks my heart and I realize this could and probably will happen to my children also, unless we find a way to change things. What would you say to this man when he says to you “I am a man, I can work and I want to work?”

Also do you know it costs more to place people in day-hab than pre-vocational employment working? I went to the Director of Options and asked if that was true? It is because in pre-voc they can have more people with one staff member and in day – hab the ratio is a smaller number of people to one staff member therefore costing more. Does this make sense for taxpayers?

Folks we are going backwards in our treatment with people with intellectual disabilities, please help us find a way to correct this injustice. People help us treat this population as you would like to see your children treated. Please, we need your help. I am not asking for just my children but for all of the people who have already been moved into day – hab, let’s bring those who want to work back and find jobs for the children who will soon be seeking work. The number of children today with Autism has exploded and we need to be prepared to help this population. We are all in this world together; treat them as you would want your family to be treated.

JoEllen Marconi

Kevin Jones

Our son Kevin Jones was employed by Goodwill for eleven years until he lost his job in July 2012 due to Linn County having no funding. Kevin enjoyed his jobs at Goodwill. He was learning many skills from his work. He was bringing home a paycheck and was very proud of it. Presently he is in Day – Hab with no income coming in.

Kevin wants to be productive and wants to be able to work again. We need to restore funding for shelters and workshops so that these people are able to work.

Don and Catherine Jones    

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