June 2008

Richard O. Stimson Photo

           By Richard O. Stimson

A reprint from Connecting Point.  This is a monthly publication of The Special Gathering, Inc., written for and by the mentally challenged community.

      At the writing of this article things are changing quickly, so there may be mistakes in the facts by the time you receive this. Also, the Advocacy Center has a class-action lawsuit against the State that has put the Tiers on hold. That being said, there are a few things I would do before the Tier system is put into place:

            I would ask my support coordinator what is the annual amount of my cost plan.

            I would ask my support coordinator what tier they suspect you will go in. If they tell you they do not know, then ask them which tiers are impossible for you to qualify. Many of us will end up in Tier 3 ($35,000-a-year limit) and Tier 4 ($14,792-a-year limit).

            You then need to see if the amount you are now approved for is more or less than the tier into which you will fall

            If it is less, I would:

       Once I was officially notified of the reduction I would ask for a CHAPTER 65B-8 TERMINATION, SUSPENSION or REDUCTION OF CLIENT SERVICES.

I would follow that hearing with a Due Process Hearing. The Chapter 65B is an informal process and I think it is different from the Due Process hearing which is more of a formal process. Part of what I would be trying to do is to buy time.

      Before you receive any official notification of which tier you will be placed, I would meet with my Support Coordinator. I would try to change my support plan to request more services.  Your support coordinator should document your real needs.

       It seems that around the state, many of us have been trying to not ask for too much.  This has proven to be a mistake. It appears that the State is not basing the Tier in which we are placed on what the assessment showed our needs to be. But on what we have spent in the past.

            I know of Group Homes who were trying to be good corporate citizens and not ask for every Res Hab Hour every client could qualify for. They tried to ask for what their consumers absolutely must have. The result of this will be clients–who had not tried to milk the system– will be cut. Many of these clients would have qualified for Tier 2 ($55,000 a year limit) but now will be in Tier 3 ($35,000 a year limit). If this is your case, go ahead and request the increase in hours now.

Melbourne at worship

Buying Bread or Expecting a Miracle

John 6:5


Central Theme:  Jesus wants to give us a miracle when we want to buy food.


Introduction–I have had some miracles in my life.  Tell something miraculous that has happened in your life.  A small, everyday happening is the best.  For example, I have only one Sunday off a year in my job with Special Gathering.  In order to spend the maximum time with my children and grandchildren when they are born, they need to be born on Sunday.  Three of my grandchildren have been born on Sunday.  And I’ve been able to be there on the day they were born.  But everytime I am faced with an impossible situation, I want to work it out myself rather than trust God.


       I.     Have a member read John 6:5. 

              A. They were faced with an impossible situation.

              B. Jesus asked a question, “How will we feed these people?”

              C. Philip tried to work it out. 

                   1.  Got out his calculator to figure the cost of 20,000 Big Macs, etc.

               D. Jesus did not want figures.  He wanted Philip to trust him for a miracle.


      II.     I never seem to expect a miracle first.

              1.  I want to figure out how to make it happen first.

                   A. I get out my calendar or day planner.

                   B. I try to work it into my plans and week.

                   C. I try to figure if I have the money.

              2.  This is not all bad.  Jesus tells us to plan ahead.


     III.     I think Jesus was looking at the impossible.

              A. We can trust him to do the impossible when we cannot.

              B. He wants us to say, “You have to do this one, God.”

              C. He may ask, “What are we going to do?”  but he probably wants your answer to be, “What are you going to do?  This one is too big for me to handle.”


Conclusion–There are many things I cannot handle but nothing is impossible for God.

Yesterday, I attended a Persons with Disabilities Assessment Project, Emergency Preparedness Workshop at Cocoa Library. Chip Wilson, Statewide Disability Coordinator for Emergency Services was the main speaker.   While Mr.  Wilson was interesting and even entertaining.  His presentation was pretty rudimentary.  Here are the things I gleaned from Mr. Wilson:

1)  Have a plan.

2)  Implement your plan.

3)  Contact anyone who needs to know your plan.

4)  Both public and private emergency shelters must be wheelchair accessible and open to the general public.

If you have any questions regarding accessible emergency shelters you can contact Chip Wilson at 850-413 9892.  His cell phone number is 850 264 4705. 

These are some of the things I learned from the Brevard County workers that were new to me:

1)  You must register each year for Special Needs Shelter placement. 

2)  To obtain a registration form, you can go to this link, or call Lacie Davis at (321) 637-6670.  

3)  You must register each year for Special Needs Transportation to a General Shelter or a Special Needs Shelter. 

4)  The Special Needs Transportation request is on the Special Needs Shelter request.  Again, here is the link. 

5)  You can get Special Needs Transportation FROM the shelter, ONLY if you had Special Needs Transportation TO the shelter.  Therefore, if your independent living coach or your parent or agency person takes you to the shelter, they must bring you home from the shelter. 

6)  NOTE to supported living coaches:  If you take a person to shelter, they cannot get home on the SCAT bus or with other public transportation.  You must provide them with transportation home from the shelter.

7)  Special Needs Shelters are for medically fragile people.  You will not be accepted into a Special Needs Shelter, unless you are medically fragile.

8)  Cots are not provided in general public shelters.  Bring your own bedding (including a cot, if you need it.) 

9)  It is still an APD requirement that an independent living person be accompanied to any shelter with a companion.  The person who will accompany your consumer should be part of their Emergency Preparation Plan.  Supported-living coaches or support coordinators should insure that this companion cost is included in the Support Plan.

7) If you have any questions regarding this, call 211.  This is an excellent resource hotline.  These volunteers are knowledgeable and they can get you in contact with the person to whom you need to talk.

Interesting sidebar, there was only one support coordinator and two independent living coaches who attending this meeting.   

Outside the lunch room at Camp Agape

Last Saturday, the Brevard County Recreation Department, South Sector, hosted a marvelous barbecue picnic for people with disabilities and their parents.  There was an ample surplus of food.  The day was warm with a soft summer breeze that refreshed everyone, except the cook, of course.  He was kept busy all day.  He was preparing the food, cooking the food, making up plates for people who wanted to take food home with them and finally cleaning up as the others disbursed.

After the wonderful barbecue and the paper plate mess had been thrown away, scrap papers picked up, and table wiped, my good friend, Marlo,  went up to the man who had cooked all day for the picnickers.  “Thank you so much.  I know how hard you worked today.” 

Marlo is a Special Gathering volunteer who is also a parent.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our purpose is to evangelize and disciple people with developmental disabilities.  After the picnic, Marlo had helped clean up the mess along with Barbara Mitchell, the South Sector Director, and a couple of other people, including the cook. 

“Yes,” the cook said in response to her comment about his hard work.  Marlo had found out during the course of the day that the cook had also supplied most of the food.  This man is not a parent or a professional working within the mentally challenged community.  He is a volunteer who wanted to do something to help people with disabilities.  “It was my pleasure,” he continued, “but I don’t understand something.  You are the only person who came up to me to say thank you.”

Marlo’s questioned me later in the week, “Why do some people in the mentally challenged community have a sense of entitlement?  Can’t we see that the government and other people can’t do it all.  We must be able to do something for ourselves.  Can’t we see that because of our great need, we must have a great deal of gratefulness?  When did we become takers who aren’t thankful to all the people who give to us and then give again?”

Of course, I’ve seen the same thing.  Though I must say that I’ve never experienced this myself.  I am greatly appreciated by all my members and parents.  While probably 90 percent of people in the mentally challenged community are hard-working people who only want a job so they can pay their fair-share of taxes, there are some who have come to expect others to do for them.  This is not a good trend. 

I’ve seen over the years, that people will do anything for me, as long as I am grateful.  In fact, I’m the same way.  I’ll do and do, as long as I sense a grateful heart.  Yet, my gut grinds when I feel I’m being taken advantage.  

Please and thank you are still those charmingly old-fashioned words that open doors and tell the world that we are grateful for the help we receive.  What some ways you’ve learned to be grateful by your members?  What are a few things they do for you that show their gratitude?

Ed at church

“You can get government funding,” we have been told more than one time.  And, yes, that is probably true.  However, our purpose as a Christian ministry is to evangelize and disciple people who are mentally challenged.  The government does not pay to make disciples for Christ.  Reviewing church history, that is probably a good thing.

Over the years, we have seen ministries begin with the purpose of evangelizing/discipling and providing a serivce for people with disabilities.  Perhaps they are a head start program, early intervention, or a group home.  Maybe it is a sheltered workshop.  Things go well for a time.  Then when financial realities slap the founders in the face, government funding begins to look more and more attractive. 

This is not a criticism but reality.  Doing social work within this community is expensive.  In order to stay in existence, country, state and federal funding must be used.  But government funding comes with strings.  One of those strings is that evangelism and discipleship will suffer.  There are homes which have made a valiant effort to continue with their original purpose but with the additional public funding, there are compromises required.  That is understandable and perhaps even acceptable, if you are providing housing or education or rehabilitation.

With The Special Gathering, our one purpose is the one thing the government cannot support while still maintaining their Constitutional integrity.  In addition, we believe that the church, not the government, is commissioned to do the task of discipleship.  At times, we sweat out funding in a way that we wouldn’t if a government grant were possible.  But in the end we don’t have to hide what we do or our purpose.  We can stand tall beside our members, knowing that the local churches in our community have cared enough to give to the very best.

What are some of the things that you would need to give up should public funding be used by your program?  Are those things worth the extra effort it takes to solicit funds from local churches?


Life can be a roller coaster ride

Because Special Gathering fosters a project called Networks which is a Faith in Action program, I receive a lot of calls from people with needs.  Our funding must go to people who are developmentally delayed and none of these folks fit into that category but I can help with most inquiries, steering people to state and local agencies who can help.  Therefore, I do need to find out some information about the people who are calling.

On Monday a received a call from a woman who was seeking help for her friend.  He has cancer and he has lost his voice box.  One of my first questions was “Are you active in any church?” 

Her voice became curt, “No.  But I’ve called a lot of churches and they refuse to give me any help.  I was surprised because I thought churches are here to help people.” This is the usual response and almost without exception, the bitterness drips from their voices. 

This is not a problem that Special Gathering encounters.  All of our funding must go to people who are developmentally delayed.  And our ministry doesn’t have the resources to help the general population, even if we could.  We deliberately own nothing so that all of our resources can go into evangelizing and discipling.  For those reasons, I feel that I can speak freely in regard to this issue.

For years the church has been seen as a rather convenient social services organization.  That image has been promoted by the extremely effective efforts of Salvation Army and Compassion, Int., as well as many other local churches, denominational and parachurch organizations.  Feeding the poor, helping the weak, visiting the prisoner and downtrodden is more than a ploy to recruit more members, it is part of the New Testament mandate to the church.  (There is some discussion about whether the command extends to the general population or to active participants.  But that’s an issue we won’t address in this column.)

However, the Church does not have unlimited resources.  In addition, local congregations have become a brasen target for petty con artists, who will make up amazing stories to get money from what they consider easy prey.  Also, the demand on resources has ballooned.  As the congregants have gotten older and more frail, the demands on financial resources and man power has increased.  On the other hand, offerings and volunteers have decreased.  Many churches struggle to peddle fast enough to keep up with the demands within their household.  They are not able to finance the unknown concerns–even those most valid–that arrive on their doorsteps at 5pm Friday afternoon.

Almost every Christian would like to meet all the needs around the globe and many of them give sacrificially but is it fair to take from those who have sacrifieced when the people in need don’t want to return the favor? 

These are some of the reasons that people give to me who have refused public funding and resources.  “Can’t take the bus.  I’d have to walk a couple of blocks to the bus stop.  They won’t give me door-to-door pickup.”  Or the retiree who lost his driver’s license because of his eyesight,  “Do you know how long it takes to go anywhere on the bus?  I could get to the grocery store in 15 minutes in my car.  With the bus, it takes at least 30 minutes.  You can’t expect me to waste my time that way.” 

Another lady  never got her driver’s license.  She had depended on the genorosity of her friends to transport her.  As everyone she knew got older, it was suggested that she ride the bus.  “Are you kidding?  It cost $1 everytime I have to ride a bus.  I won’t pay that amount?”  Guess she had never contributed to the vehicular expenses of her friends who had been transporting her for more than 60 years.

“I went to a church and they had a whole pantry full of food and they allowed me to take only one bag of groceries.  I couldn’t believe how stingy they were.” 

“Well, the church on the corner wouldn’t give me money for my electric bill.  all they would do is refer me to the Sharing Center.  Then the Sharing Center demanded to see my Social Security card.  I just walked out.  I’m not showing them my Social Security card.  That’s none of their business.  Anyway, they’ll only pay my bills once every six months.  I’ll not go back there again.”

There are the adult children who call from Pennsylvania or New York or Michigan because their parents have dementia or cancer or a broken leg.  The parents must have someone to take care of them.  “Why can’t a church send someone out to help them? My parents are desperate.  Doesn’t anyone down there care?” 

Okay, I could go on and on.  We are facing a national crisis as baby boomers age.  Statistics show that about 50 percent of boomers aren’t prepared financially to retire much less for a health emergency.  Is this a church crisis or a societal crisis?  Perhaps it is both but I contend that it is a crisis that is bigger than the local church (and our younger generation) can sustain.  People can no longer expect the church or society to pick up the burden of poor planning and excessive expectations.

Carlos takes up offering

Each week an offering is taken at Special Gathering.

Several years ago a local church wanted to give The Special Gathering of Indian River a special love gift. We strive to become part of a church’s budget and this congregation gave us a monthly donation but they also wanted to give something extra for the end of the year.  The missions committee requested that we use their gift to purchase something that our members needed.  So they asked us if there was something that they could give to each member. 

We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple people with developmental disabilities.  I shared that many of our members don’t have Bibles and we would like to give them a Bible.  The youth pastor of the church was a good friend of mine.  He took me aside and said, “I’ve learned that people appreciate what they have more, if they earn it themselves.  You need to teach your members how to tithe.  Then you can buy them the Bibles they need.”  I understood and agreed with his reasoning. 

However, within the mentally challenged community where we minister there are several problems with this logic.  First, most of our members have little access to money.  Unless they have an outside job, they are probably paid to do piece work.  This means their pay checks are minimal, perhaps $.50 or $4 a week.  If they receive a Social Security check, it is without a doubt handled by a parent or a group home staff.  If they live in their own apartment, it will be used for rent, groceries and household necessities, again the money will be handled by an independent living coach.  Most of the business end of their money will be parceled out to them.

Second, the members of our population have been taught in ten kajillion ways to not buck authority.  If their independent living coach or house parent says, “This is what you give to Special Gathering.”  Then that is what they give…no question asked.

Third, there are definate deficiencies in the understanding of many men and women who are developmentally delayed.  Often when we think of developmental difficulties, reading, conversation and socialization come to mind.  Nevertheless, these aren’t the only deficiencies that exist.  Tracy doesn’t know a nickel from a 50 dollar bill.  Of course, she can tell the difference in the shape and the structure but the significance goes beyond her reasoning skills.  Deb is married.  She is an excellent reader.  Her conversation skills are superior.  But Deb’s deficits lie within the realm of those scary numbers.  People who struggled with Algebra in school can perhaps grasp their dilemma.

  Simply put, they don’t understand the concept of money.  To them, $.05 is as valuable as $5,000.  Therefore, giving an offering has a different significance to them.  A tithe is well beyond their intellectual reach.  Deb always brags that she gives beyond her tithe, as she puts her quarter into the offering plate.  I believe God understands Deb’s heart and multiples her blessing.

The fourth reason is that if our members tithed on their pay checks, most of them are giving much beyond what is required.  If your pay check is $6 a month and you put $1 into the offering plate each week, you have given 66 percent of your earnings.  Incidently, $1 is what most of our members put into the offering plate.  As to what their pay may be, $6 is probably a stretch. 

These are several of the reasons that we depend on the generosity of local churches to help with the expenses of evangelizing and discipling this important population.  Christ commissioned the local church with this essential task. 

How are you able to empower your members to give to the Lord?  Are many of your members stumped by the concept of numbers and money?  Is this an issue that you have dealt with in a positive way?


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