Collateral Damage

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Peckham, inc., obtains government contracts to employ disabled people and is affected by the shutdown.

Peckham is based out of Lansing, Michigan, and was founded by Ralf Peckham who was the head of the Michigan Rehab department. His original goal was to hire people with mental illness who faced significant barriers to employment.

Peckham opened their high tech call center in Grand Rapids 4 years ago. They are a nonprofit organization that trains and hires people with disabilities to do meaningful work at a high level of competence. These are people who our society and businesses have left behind. Have deemed unworthy of employment and the dignity that comes from being able to support themselves.

ADHD, sensory disorders, back injuries, blindness, autism, paraplegic and quadraplegia, depression, and anxiety are some of the conditions that qualify someone to work at Peckham.

Since Peckham opened here, many of these employees have become independent, bought their own houses or rented an apartment. A few have gotten married. They have moved on, finally, with their lives.

Marie was in the initial group of hires at Peckham four years ago. Since then, as many of you know, she has bought a condo, and we live with her. This condo is a blessing for us.

Marie graduated from Davenport University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Because of her disability, autism compounded by a mild brain injury at birth, she could not find a job for four years. She persisted in her efforts to find employment and sent out many resumes, volunteered for nonprofits, and eventually found limited part-time work at Mel trotter in accounts receivable.

So when the opportunity for employment with Peckham came up, she decided to go a different direction and try something new because her accounting degree was seemingly of no use. So Peckham trained her in tech support. She has real world certification. Tier 1 tech support, and she continues to train for additional certifications. She is also currently in the process of obtaining an associate’s in programming from grcc. She’s about halfway through. She’s a straight A student in this endeavor. I say this not just because I am proud of her. I say this because these are the kind of people that our capitalist system misses out on. UnEmployment among capable people with disabilities is multiple times the general level of unemployment.

So yesterday because of the government shutdown, 30 people were laid off at the Grand Rapids Peckham location. Marie’s hours were reduced to 30 a week. As the shutdown goes on, she could be laid off as well. Wednesday she had one chat in 7 hours. Yesterday 2 chats. She has training and experience in several areas at Peckham, plus seniority. Over the weekend she used two vacation days so others could work.

The government agency she primarily does support for, the US Forest Service – the firefighters who fight the fires in California for instance, has laid off most of their employees. That’s considered a non-essential government service.

 

The government agency she works for primarily provides tech support for, the US Forest Service – the firefighters who fight the fires in California for instance, has laid off most of their employees. That’s considered a non-essential government service.
After Marie had worked for Peckham for a year, we spent a year trying to help her become independent through buying her own condo or renting an apartment. We toured apartment complexes and condos. We came close to signing a lease and to making an offer on a condo, but stopped at the last minute. Then Ralph was diagnosed with cancer. At that point, we made the decision to help Marie buy a condo with the understanding that we would live with her and share the expenses. And a condo just happened to be available. I’m so thankful we have this arrangement. She has some cushion. I know she’s anxious as anyone would be. we are doing okay for now. But I think about the employees who have their own apartment for the first time or are supporting a family.
And I say all this just in case you don’t know anyone who is affected by the shutdown.
We need to let our president and our representatives know they should work toward a real compromise. President Trump said in a tweet a couple days ago that a shutdown didn’t matter that much because it is mostly affects Democratic employees. I’m sure there are some conservatives that are affected as well. Aside from being tone deaf, that demonstrates contempt for ordinary people.
The employees at Peckham are not federal employees. They are collateral damage that has not been reported on in this government shut down.
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He’s Left The Harbor

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“There’s a rumor we may need to go to London around the first of the year,” said Will, via Facebook Messanger to me, Ralph, and Patty. He sent this to us from Atlanta while on a business trip in November.

Will has definitely left the harbor. He owns his own home in another city. He goes on several business trips a year. This year he has spent time in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and probably somewhere else I am forgetting.

I started this blog in 2011 at Will’s urging. That is, I started writing again. After he graduated from college. He encouraged me to go to a local writing group, and there I learned how to blog.

From 2011 to 2014, I posted once a week on average. After Ralph’s health emergency in 2014, the blog faltered. I lost focus. My entries were not solely grounded in transition issues for young adults on the spectrum transitioning to adulthood.

I wonder what direction I should go from here.

Should I consider closing it down? Our kids are in their late 20s to early 30s. Will and Marie have jobs and mortgages. Patty is struggling for direction, but lives with her brother. Patty has said to me directly that she doesn’t want me to identify them as having any struggles growing up. It is important for their careers that they not be identified as ever having been on the spectrum. I struggle with this, because it has been so much of my life, raising them, and helping them achieve what they have. But I can see her perspective. On the other hand, she has told me that I need to write the story of our family. If I don’t, she has said she will. She wants to see my journals. However, I don’t know if she could handle the rawness of those emotions. I stopped journaling when they learned to read well.

Should I gather up these blog entries and put them in a collection of essays and publish them under the pseudonym of this blog. What if that becomes successful? Will they be “outed?”

If nothing else, this blog has been cathartic for me. It has helped me understand and process some of the history of our family. Our struggles, emotions, etc. But I don’t know if I should just shut it down. Throw it away. Act as if it didn’t happen.

And then there is the question of whether I should keep writing, and further, what I should write about. So pray for me, my readers and fellow bloggers. I don’t know what direction I should go now. Write fiction, stories, reviews, poetry, etc. What would I write about. I have been busy the last few years just taking care of myself and Ralph, who has cancer. But things have settled down since the diagnosis and subsequent move to the condo with our oldest daughter, Marie. So this spring I have planned to go to a writers’ retreat at the urging of my psychiatrist. He said I need to take care of myself and get away. But I am at a crossroad. I hope nothing prevents me from going to the retreat. It is paid for. I am still a member of my writing group, even though I don’t meet with them in purpose.

Will is out of the harbor. Patty lives with him. We live with Marie in her condo. Maybe it’s time to close the door on this chapter. But I don’t know what direction I want to go next. I just know I want to keep writing.

What say you?

Character and Determination

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When Marie graduated from high school, the state rehabilitation agency sent her to a day long series of evaluations to assess whether my plan to take her to college was an appropriate use of state funds.

The report was devastating. 20+ pages long. I read it tearfully. However, I had read many similar reports about Marie throughout her education.

Some of her teachers in middle school and high school had honestly looked at her weaknesses, but they also looked at her strengths. She started reading at 15 through intensive instruction. The first novel she read was THE LORD OF THE RINGS at 16.

And she had an affinity for numbers. Her teachers encouraged this. In high school, she finished a 2-year course in computerized accounting in one year at the KCTC. She worked hard.

The Michigan Rehab neuropsych testing concluded that she could take beginning college classes like remedial English and beginning accounting classes, but she wouldn’t be able to pass advanced accounting classes. Even if she passed advanced accounting classes, she likely wouldn’t graduate. Even if she graduated, because of her autism, she wouldn’t be able to interact with clients.

Her sister, Patty, said to me at the time, that test does not measure hard work or determination. It doesn’t measure character.

So the fall of 2005, Marie started taking classes at GRCC. We signed her up for disability services at the college. She did well in all of her accounting classes and needed tutoring in language based courses. She graduated from community college in 2008 with an associate degree in accounting. We encouraged her to go to Davenport for her bachelor’s degree. She graduated from Davenport in 2010.

The neuropsych testing was correct in forecasting her difficulty in finding full-time work. She got interviews. But never the job. I surmise that the interviewers knew something was off. She didn’t make eye contact, her voice was very soft, she still had residual speech issues.

After a year of this, she looked up volunteer organizations, and found a volunteer position at Mel Trotter in accounts receivable. She volunteered without fail for a year. Her boss told her that if she volunteered for a year they would hire her part time. They hired her that fall. She worked full time during the giving season October through December and one or two afternoons a week for the rest of the year, for three years. And she continued to look for work and got interviews, but never a job.

In the spring of 2014 she told me that she was going to go in a different direction. Goodwill in collaboration with Peckham Industries was offering a course leading to IT certification. She was going to an interview for the program next week. Would I take her? Of course, I said. The job opportunity was at a call center at Peckham Industries.

So she started the course in August 2014. In October 2014, Ralph was hospitalized for bowel obstruction and emergency bowel resection surgery due to a tumor. Our Sunday school class stepped in and provided transportation so that Marie could finish her course. They also took Patty to her TA job at Cornerstone University. This was what we desperately needed. God provided this through his people. Ephesians 2:10 in action.

Marie passed the certification course on the first try. She went through the interview process, including an interview with the FBI for security clearance, and was hired with the first group of hires for Peckham Industries’ call center to provide tech support for the USDA forest service. They also have contracts for Visa tech support.

She has been working for Peckham for 3 1/2 years. Two years ago, she bought the condo we live in with her. She is now taking courses at the community college for a computer programming associates while working full time. She is getting straight A’s.

Marie’s life is testimony to the goodness of God. And the accumulation of all the good works performed by hundreds of people on her behalf and our behalf. This didn’t happen by accident.

*****

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:1013906724_10153813157811381_3887460422324417653_n

Don’t Get Me Started – A Rant About Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling

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The rules of grammar are a scientific description of how language works, a product of observation.

At my last dental appointment, my dental hygienist invited me to poke fun at people who make spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. “Doesn’t it bug you when…” I refused the invitation by talking about Marie’s severe learning disabilities.

Marie and my husband, Ralph, struggle with writing and spelling, but are very good at diagramming sentences and understanding the “rules” (scientific description) of grammar. They are both math minded. My mother couldn’t spell to save her life, but she did make the best white bread I have ever tasted. My sister struggled in school. She had an undiagnosed learning disability, and suffered for it all the way through school. So I get defensive for my people, when those who are language gifted throw stones at those who struggle.

I love to write and have been doing so since elementary school. However, even though my major in college was English literature with a minor in linguistics, I wasn’t very interested in grammar. I took an English grammar class in college, and struggled to get a B. It was BORING. I was good at writing, punctuation, and spelling due to all the reading I did as a young person, along with practice; but I wasn’t very interested in the scientific description of language. It wasn’t until I took a business English class when I was studying for my associate in legal office administration that I gained a firm grasp on the grammatical rules of the English language.

I do not judge anyone on their use of language, spelling, and punctuation. I am not a grammar Nazi, though I sometimes joke about it. I’ve known too many people for whom this is a life long struggle; and no matter how much they try, improvement is a very slow process. Language is so complicated.

For some of us, competency in writing comes easy. It’s a gift. But for others, it’s a struggle. It is possible to improve over the long haul. I’ve witnessed this with Marie. She never stops learning and she doesn’t give up easily. She told me this morning that she understands the rules of grammar very well, even though she struggles with writing and spelling.

One of the reasons Marie doesn’t use Facebook is due to her spelling deficit. That’s probably true of a lot of people who don’t use Facebook. Here’s the thing, though; it’s easy to throw shade toward those who struggle with language on Facebook because it’s all so very visible, and make the assumption that they’re stupid. But here’s another thing; Marie is kind and rarely complains about anything. Academically, her strengths are in math and logic related subjects like accounting, grammar, and programming. Her major in college was accounting. In high school she completed a two year computerized accounting class in one year. She is now working on a two year degree in programming at the community college, and she is getting straight A’s.

So don’t ask me to judge people based on their skill in using English. You’ll get a failing grade from me and an earful. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have something to contribute. And I complain too much and am not always kind.

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Exceptionally Forward

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There are times in my life when my boldness has been completely out of character for the personality I was born into.

I am currently in the process of writing a grant application for my church. Our church building is over 50 years old. First, the sanctuary was built with classrooms in the basement. Then the family center with additional classrooms and a gym was added later, at the bottom of a hill,  with a connection through the basement of the sanctuary. There was an intention to build an elevator at a later date. However, that congregation dissolved before it could be done.

We have an emotional connection to this church building. We met and were married in this church building. Our kids were all in the nursery. That church dissolved a year after we moved to a different area of the city. It was very upsetting and sad. Several small congregations occupied the building without much success after that. When we moved back to the area, we discovered that there was a new congregation there and the church parking lot was full on Sundays. So we decided to check it out. We have been attending since June and have noticed some very wonderful things about this congregation.

This church has had a strong ministry to orphans – particularly those who are medically fragile.  Many of their families have adopted.  And several others are consistently providing foster care for children in need.  This is an under-served and often neglected population.  This project would allow those with disabilities to access classrooms for Bible study and fully enter into the life of the church.  They have also partnered with Olivia’s Gift – a local home for developmentally disabled adults.  Our congregation serves there on Thursday evenings by playing music, reading to the residents, etc.  They have tried to bring the residents to our facility for Sunday services but accessibility has been a challenge.

Our church also has an African Refugee Church that meets at around 1:00 pm. There are many Chinese students who come. There is an English as a second language ministry. And several members work with New Creation Ministries doing Bible correspondence courses with prisoners.

Before we came, our church had been planning to build an elevator to the classroom areas and family center, along with a broader foyer and wider stairs. As it stands now, a person in a wheelchair or using a cane would have to go back to their car and be driven down the hill to get to the classroom area of the church. Or be carried down the stairs. These options are cumbersome and embarrassing. Many newcomers would just give up. The gospel is for everyone, not just those who can navigate the stairs.

I have witnessed church members carrying the wheelchair of a young man down the stairs.

So the pastor of the church ask if I would be willing to explore grant possibilities. I said yes. That is exceptionally forward of me.

It is not like me to go to strangers and try to convince them to hand over money even for a good cause. I was never much good at selling girl scout cookies, even though they practically sell themselves. I am not a sales person; I take after my dad in that regard. He has had many side careers over the years, none of which were successful, and some of which cost him quite a bit of money with lackluster return at best.

I was extremely shy when I went away to college. When a boy came to sit at my table with my friends, I would shake; I was so nervous. I wish I had been braver when I was in college. Maybe I would have been able to raise money from organizations to attend a semester in England. Nah. I would have been shaking in my boots.

However, there have been moments in my life that defy my natural tendencies.

After I graduated from college, I decided to attend this church which was halfway between my job and my parents’ house because the services were earlier. The first Sunday, my husband’s friend introduced himself to me, and then introduced me to my future husband. After church, the crowd was so thick that we were stuck at the back, and had to talk to each other until the crowd dispersed. He was shy. So was I. But here is the exceptionally forward part. That Wednesday night, this shy person went to prayer meeting and noticed that he was sitting alone. By himself. I inexplicably walked up to him and asked if the seat next to him was empty. He said yes. I sat down. He didn’t look at me the entire meeting. But afterward we went out for cokes at the local baptist college. (There wasn’t much available at that time near the church). And the rest, as they say, is history.

After our kids were placed in special education, I also did some things I probably wouldn’t have done if not for autism. If not for my kids.

I went to a board meeting to speak up for the kindergarten teacher who was going to be reduced to part-time. I was shaking, but I said, looking at one of the board members who also had a son in kindergarten, “My son has special needs and is very disruptive in his classrooms. Do you think it’s a good idea to put a child like him in a class of 30 kindergartners? Or would it be less expensive to put him in a specialized class in another district.” That was exceptionally forward of me. The teacher kept her full time job…and was an excellent teacher to my son.

I spoke at public comment sessions for special education, I went to conferences. I spoke to rooms full of day care providers on taking care of children with special needs. I spoke to college students in child development classes regarding what it was like to raise a child with autism.

I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I did it anyway. For the kids. And by the grace and power of God, who helped me speak to groups of people.

So I am feeling like this venture of writing for grants is also exceptionally forward of me. But it is for others.   And I am having a bit of writer’s block about it. But I have been collecting the attachments. And writing out my thoughts. Hoping to come up with a theme to make our request more powerful. Would you pray for me in this.

Ann