Supervision


Leonard is a handsome young man who was separated from him siblings at birth.  The State of Florida convinced his widowed mother that she could not take care of another child, especially one who was intellectually disabled like Leonard.  Therefore, the other children never knew about their brother.

The brothers and sisters were all under eight years old; and they didn’t understand that their mother was pregnant when their father died.  When she left for a few days, they didn’t know that she had a baby.  She made weekly trips to visit him every Saturday; but she never told them about him.

As their mother was about to die, they learned about their brother.  They began a search; but they could not find him.  Finally after 15 years, they simply googled his name and found him.  These are successful men and women who are Christians.

Even though it had been more than 30 years, they arranged a meeting.  Then they began to schedule visits with him.  Several months ago, they moved their brother to another city in our state which is much closer to them.  Reports from him have been discouraging.  Our understanding is that Leonard has tried to commit suicide.

I have no idea that this report is true.  However, this I do know.  It is a tricky thing to move a family member away from their friends and familiar surroundings.  Many times, siblings make promises to their parents that they will take a brother or sister who is developmentally disabled into their homes when the parents die.

Most siblings try hard to fulfill this commitment.  However, there is one factor than many parents and siblings forget to consider–the person who is mentally challenged.  Many times, they don’t want to move.  They have friends and their lives are established.  They must leave their homes, their rooms, all their things.  At times, siblings need permission to be released from an unworkable situation.  Other times, siblings may need added help in finding ways to help their brother or sister adjust to new surroundings.

What have you found that works in these hard situations?

Of course, there are many differences between men and women; but one of the biggest differences is the attitude toward tools.  Men love tools and love inventing tools.  There is a tool for every job a man has to do.  Did you know there is a special wrench used exclusively for adjusting spark plugs?  Another one for adjusting the carburetor on your car?  There is even a widget that is only needed to replace the screens of your house.

Women on the other hand love to work with whatever is available.  Give a woman a metal nail file, a butcher knife and a pair of scissors; and she will attempt to conquer the world.

At times those of us in specialized ministries are told how special we are because we do what we do.  Usually, we smile and thank the person.  However, we know that this is actually not the truth.  At The Special Gathering, we work with people who are mentally challenged.  Our members are more like other adults than they are different.  Even though we do have different tools in our tool box from those used in the normal congregational setting.

First, we must insure that our members are safe.  I jokingly say, “I’m the only pastor in South Brevard or Indian River County who carries rubber gloves in my suit pockets.”  But rubber gloves are merely the beginning.  We must check our members when they arrive and when they leave.  We must insure that they are safe about each half hour by doing a visual check on many of our members.

Second, we need some training in how to teach.  Our members learn on a third to fourth grade level but socially they are kind of stuck in junior high.  Nevertheless, they have all the concerns and worries of any other adult.  Combining those skills while understanding that our members must be treated with the dignity of any other adult, does take some fine tuning of your teaching skill set.

Third, we have transporatation issues.  Today, I’m minus a van to pick up my members because the church that lends us their vans needs to use it.  I have to rearrange my transportation schedule.  Our members don’t drive.  If we don’t pick them up, they probably won’t get there, no matter how much they want to attend.  We have learned, that if we pick people up, the attendance rate is 80 to 90 percent.  If we depend on others, that is, support staff to provide the transportation, their attendance drops to 30 to 40 percent.  And the longer support staff is used, the greater the decrease in attendance.

Of course, there are other issues that face us.  On the other hand, there are some pretty important things that we don’t face.  Our members are extremely grateful for anything we do for them.  We often say that we are the only pastors in town who are loved by all of our members.  Part of our tool box doesn’t have to be a way to pacify our parishioners.

If you look at statistics, our congregations are fairly large.  But no matter how successful we become, we don’t have to be concerned about anyone else wanting to take our jobs.  In the years, I held positions in the local church, there was always someone aspiring to take my position or wanting to tell me how to do the job I was doing.  At Special Gathering, we have no sandpaper attachment needed to smooth over the feelings of people who want to take our positions.

Also, our members are pretty stable emotionally.  There are some members who have a dual-diagnosis but they are definitely in the minority.  When I first ventured in to this ministry, I was warned by my pastor to beware of this population because they are draining.  Then I explained that I would be working with people who are mentally challenged and that they are surprisingly emotionally stable. “Oh,” he said with a grin.  “Then you’ll be working with people who are less draining than I do.”

Yep, those of us who are on staff and volunteer at Special Gathering believe that we have the best positions in the Church.  We are working with people who are grateful, helpful and pretty stable.  Weighing the pros and cons, I’ll keep my tool chest.

What are some of the things you do with your members that are different from what you would be doing in a different congregation?

ImageEach year, Special Gathering of Indian River partners with the Brevard County Rec Department to provide special events.  This Saturday, we will be taking a group of SpG members to SeaWorld, an amusement park in Orlando.  These trips are a great time of fellowship and growth.

I’m responsible for 34 people who will be attending.  I’m not supervising these people; but I am gathering their information and helping to get their tickets.

However, I find several things that I cannot understand.  First, I go over my list of people who are attending several times.  I keep a complete and thorough list.  Every person gives me their money and I record the amount they gave me.  I don’t let anyone get away with not paying.  Yet, I, occasionally, manage to have less money that I should have.  Usually, it is only a few dollars so it isn’t a financial burden.  It is a source of frustration though.

ImageMy questions is:  Where does that $3 go?  Is there a hole in an envelop somewhere? Have I lost my ability to count?  This week I’ve gathered the money for the 34 tickets and I face the same dilemma.

Perhaps, it is like the proverbial sock that disappears in the short journey when transferring from the dirty clothes hamper to the dryer.  My problem is not the amount of money that disappears but WHERE has it gone?

Do you have any answers?  Does this ever happen to you?  Is this a sign of stress?  Perhaps, there is a simple explanation.  Can you help?

On Friday, June 3, 2011, there was a web meeting that District 7 Support Coordinators had with Tallahassee Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD).  This meeting may have included Support Coordinators from around the state.  However, we have not knowledge of that.  Below is a statement that a support coordinator sent to Richard Stimson, Special Gathering Executive Director, about the meeting.

Hey, call me if you have time tomorrow.  The Host home issue is going to be BIG!  They (APD) talked about it in the web training on Friday. Anything to save a buck.  If people are not looking appropriate for Res Hab (residential habilitation) or NOT making progress, they are heading to the host home just like the good ole days of HRS (Health and Rehabilitative Services).  Hate to say it; but I think you were right.

You need to check this out with Support Coordinators you know, but it appears that the state is going to try to move clients that do not want to live in supportive living or who are unable to live in supportive living into host homes (foster homes).

While host or foster homes are not proposed in other states, Florida, like California, is known as a pace-setter across the nation.  This is a move backwards for people who are mentally challenged.  Having served on the Local Advocacy Council for several years, I learned that there is little or no oversight in this type of home.

As a ministry within the mentally challenged community, it is important that we be people of prayer for our members.

About fifteen years ago, a widow wanted a quality group home to be built in our county for her son.  For years, her son had been associated with Special Gathering (SpG).  She desired that once built, SpG would oversee the supervision and run the home.

During a SpG board of director’s meeting, there was a heated discussion when the proposal was presented.  One board member adamantly opposed this arrangement.  She argued that group homes require authority, control and oversight on a daily basis.  She believed that our healing mission of evangelism and discipleship would be compromised.  The prophet Isaiah speaking for the Lord agreed with her.  His approach had been “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”

her logic prevailed, even though the other board members resisted her for a time.  One at a time, each person saw the wisdom of her line of reasoning.  It was finally voted that SpG would not own or operate group homes.

The Lord has made our mission clear.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community whose purpose is evangelism and discipleship.  Many things come under this broad heading, but the daily operation of group homes is not one of them.

Staff members of SpG do believe that under most circumstances group homes are a better alternative for mentally challenged people than living alone in their own apartments.  Our concern is not a preference of housing arrangements; but it is a concern over the  level of supervision that is provided in most states for people living in their own apartments.  However, this the personal opinion of our staff members, not the policy of our SpG, Inc. board of directors.

As reported by Naked Politics 

NEW APD DIRECTOR CARL LITTLEFIELD QUITS 

Carl Littlefield, tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to lead the Agency for Person’s with Disabilities, unexpectedly withdrew his name from consideration and said he wasn’t seeking the post. Littlefield was scheduled to appear 9 a.m. at the Senate Children Families and Elder Affairs Committee, where Chair Chair Ronda Storms was going to rake him over the coals for his handling of a sex scandal at the Human Development Center, a Hillsborough County APD provider

The center faces allegations of sex abuse and lax supervision. Storms’ committee recently sent a scathing letter about the matter, and Littlefield had little hope of surviving an in-person appearance.

Senators had wondered why the abuse issues at the group home had not been addressed in the more than two years since complaints first arrived at the office of the Tampa Bay region’s area administrator, Littlefield.

“In two years, he never reached out to me,” said Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, who called the hearing after reading an investigation in the St. Petersburg Times published in December. “In two years, he never picked up the phone.”

Littlefield’s letter withdrawing his nomination, released this morning after Scott appeared on a conservative talk show, was received by the governor’s office yesterday evening at 5 p.m.

Click here to read Carl Littlefield’s letter withdrawing his nomination.

You’ve probably seen the commercial on TV in which one of the private transporters extols the virtues of logistics.  Ahh! In special needs ministry, we know logistics and logistics can either be our best friend or our worst enemy.  Most of our programs are not like Wayside Baptist Church in Miami, Florida, which has 150 members.  Almost all of them attend the weekly services.  At Wayside, they run no vans or facilitate any other transportation. 

However, each week at Special Gathering we transport as many as 100 people from their homes to the various places where we have worship services.  Then our staff makes sure they safely get home from there.  Occasionally, we facilitate the transportation of people from our 2 Sunday morning programs to an event sponsored by the Brevard County Recreation Department.  We don’t ever provide transportation home from the party.

We do this for three reasons.  Without this transportation, some of our members would not be able to attend these events, if they came to Special Gathering.  Rather than make our members decide between our chapel programs and a party, we work to make sure they get to the party from our program.  Second, on these few Sundays, this time helps parents’ of our members.  It gives parents a few additional hours of respite time.  Third, our members enjoy the parties.  If the transportation we provide makes it easier for them, we try to make it happen.

Yet, there always seems to be an interesting bletch in my logistical planning during those extra events.  While we have our regular transports running smoothly, it is those extra times that makes me want to pluck a few eyebrows to relieve the pain.  Getting our members to the party is always easy, whether I personally transport them or we use a public conveyance.  It is getting them home safely that becomes the problem.  We say that we don’t provide transportation home from the party but someone always gets confused.

Over the years, I’ve called each member’s home to ask if they would be attending.  This was a great way to have personal contact with all our members.  However, this year, I put a notice in our monthly newsletter that said, “If you desire to attend the rec social, call Linda Howard.”  Only five people called and each of the parents assured me that they would be picking up their children.  These were also my more reliable parents. 

In all, there were more than 35 people who came from our program to the rec social.  But I was only responsible for five of them.  To insure that nothing went wrong, I was at the party at the end, making sure that all Special Gathering members had transportation home. 

It worked.  Everyone left with the person with whom they were supposed to go.  Logistics.  I love it.

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