Google+ Followers

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rochester man shows that people with disabilities can live normal lives


Michael Johnston, who has a developmental disability and lives in a Rochester home with two other men, stands between two of his caregivers, Christina Fields (left) and Amanda Atkins. Photo by Jerry Wolffe
Michael Johnston, an energetic young man who loves people and is generous with hugs and sharing smiles, is living a life many would envy.
He loves his job at the Kroger store in Rochester where he works 16 hours a week doing maintenance.
Johnston also likes going to the malls and spends time in his room at the Rochester home where he lives with two other men who have developmental disabilities.
“I like working at Kroger’s,” Johnston said. “I work from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday and can spend the money on the things I like.”
He has a job coach at the grocery store where he works near Silver Bell and Adams. He cleans bathrooms, a worker rest area and vacuums in the store. He hardly ever calls in sick and has worked at Kroger’s for seven years.
Johnston has been living in the Rochester home for 14 years and previous to that at a home in Ortonville for four years since he was born with a cognitive impairment.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Mary Malone, a Macomb-Oakland Regional Center’s support coordinator, suggested Johnston’s life illustrates how things have changed for the better for those born with disabilities who used to be placed in state institutions instead of living in the community with proper supports.
“I like movies,” Johnston said. He said he has a 32-inch TV, boom box with a CD player and old-fashioned tape player in his bedroom and is a country music fan. He named Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire and Toby Keith as his favorite artists.
“I am a pretty happy guy,” Johnston said as he reached to give a hug during an interview. “I love going into the community. I like to visit and help others.”
He has “one-on-one” with a caregiver when he can go and do whatever he likes. Often, he said he visits Wal-Mart or visits Yates Cider Mill.
“He’s very friendly,” said Malone. “He loves to give hugs. He always makes people feel good and gives compliments. When someone is having a bad day, he helps lift his or her spirit with his sense or humor or inquisitiveness,” she said.
“Other people tell me I’m funny,” said Johnston who smiled when he spoke of attending a recent dance.
After work, Johnston takes a nap since he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work on time. After work, he showers and helps prepare dinner.
“He’s known for his neatness and being organized,” said Malone as Johnston tidied up some scattered paperclips on a desk.
“Some day, somehow it’s going to happen that people with disabilities are going to be able to work,” Johnston said. “Just because you have a disability and use a wheelchair, you can work and have friends and enjoy things.”’

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Microbusinesses show creativity, drive to succeed of those with disabilities

 Jonathan Kuhn, CEO of JTK Custom Creations of Farmington Hills, shows off his hand-made pens that were for sale at the Champions of Achievement Event in Troy.

By JERRY WOLFFE

The Fourth Annual Champions for Achievement Event met with great success as some 20 microbusiness owners displayed their hand-made products ranging from classy ink pens to jewelry, artwork and greeting cards.
The two-hour event was held at the Troy Community Center on Friday with Ron Savage, the co-anchor of Fox 2 News, being the emcee. Sponsors include the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, Community Living Services and the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority.

“This event is great,” said Amy Kopovits, of Walled Lake, known as the Avon lady who has recruited 43 others to sell Avon products. “We need more of this to encourage people with disabilities to create their own business, ” she added, noting March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

Jonathan Kuhn, CEO of JTK Custom Creations of Farmington Hills, makes and was selling custom made writing instruments. The pens start off from a block of wood which he turns on a lathe and end up being well-balanced and very colorful works of art – which include a stylus on one end – that are worth every bit of the $40 he charges. “It’s great for Jonathon’s self-esteem,” said his mother Ginny. “There’s no price on self-esteem.”

“It’s inspiring for me to see these projects come to life,” said Savage. “It’s from the heart. It’s their passion.

Some products – various sizes of First Aid kits -- were practical such as those sold during the past five years by Dorothy King of Livonia. Prices ranged from $4.50, $7 to $21. “I like my business a lot,” she said.

DJR Productions, LLC, owned by Ricky Bledsoe of Warren, a radio personality and DJ, played music for an Elvis impersonator during the event. Bledsoe has thousands of gigs of music of all types and provides music at all types of events. He will next appear 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 19 at the Kensington Community Church in Troy to play a Christian medley. Thereafter, he will appear the third Thursday of each month at the nondenominational mega church. Money Bledsoe earns is reinvested in his five-year business.

Kerry Oliver of Waterford was selling soaps and air fresheners from her two-year-old business, “Kerr’s Soap Sensations.” Oliver attends about six shows a year and said, “I like to go out.”
“It’s a great opportunity for people to try out microbusinesses in a safe environment,” said Lindsay Stokes, a MORC vocational services worker. “It gives the participants the chance to work on their salesmanship, helps with confidence and adds purpose” to their lives.

Renee Uitto of Troy was selling greeting, birthday, holiday, Easter and other type of homemade cards from her “Rene’s Creative Card” business. Prices were very reasonable ranging in price up to $2. “I really like my business,” she said. “It gives me a way to express myself.” On the back of each card it said this card was “Created Especially for You by Someone Special.”

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Man with developmental disability lives full, productive life



Michael Johnston, who has a developmental disability and lives in a Rochester home with two other men, stands between two of his caregivers, Christina Fields (left) and Amanda Atkins. He is living a happy and productive life.

By JERRY WOLFFE
 
Michael Johnston, an energetic young man who loves people and is generous with hugs and sharing smiles, is living a life many would envy.
He loves his job at the Kroger store in Rochester where he works 16 hours a week doing maintenance.
Johnston also likes going to the malls and spends time in his room at the Rochester home where he lives with two other men who have developmental disabilities.
“I like working at Kroger’s,” Johnston said. “He loves his job,” said one of his caregivers Christina Fields. “I work from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday and can spend the money on the things I like,” Johnston said.
He has a job coach at the grocery store where he works near Silver Bell and Adams. He cleans bathrooms, a worker rest area, and vacuums in the store. He hardly ever calls in sick and has worked at Kroger’s for seven years.
Johnston has been living in the Rochester home for 14 years and previous to that at a home in Ortonville for four years since he was born with a cognitive impairment.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Mary Malone, a Macomb-Oakland Regional Center’s support coordinator, suggested Johnston’s life illustrates how things have changed for the better for those born with disabilities who used to be placed in state institutions instead of living in the community with proper supports.
“I like movies,” Johnston said. He said he has a 32-inch TV, boom box with a CD player and old-fashioned tape player in his bedroom and is an obvious country music fan. He named Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, and Toby Keith as his favorite artists.
“I am a pretty happy guy,” Johnston said as he reached to give a hug during an interview and pet a writer’s service dog. “I love going into the community. I like to visit and help others.”
He has “one-on-one” with a caregiver when he can go and do whatever he likes. Often, he said he visits Wal-Mart or visits Yates Cider Mill.
“He’s very friendly,” said Malone. “He loves to give hugs. He always makes people feel good and gives compliments. When someone is having a bad day, he helps lift his or her spirit with his sense or humor or inquisitiveness,” she said.
“Other people tell me I’m funny,” said Johnston who smiled when he spoke of attending a recent dance.
After work, Johnston takes a nap since he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work on time. After work, he showers and helps prepare dinner.
“He’s known for his neatness and being organized,” said Malone as Johnston tidied up some scattered paperclips on a desk.
He plans to buy a Shamrock Shake from a fast-food giant to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
“Some day, some how it’s going to happen that people with disabilities are going to be able to work,” Johnston said. “Just because you have a disability and use a wheelchair you can work and have friends and enjoy things.”’

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.

Monday, March 9, 2015

People with disabilities deserve total access to society

Many took time to tell me about challenges faced by those living with disabilities that most of us could not imagine.

Macomb-Oakland Regional Center's advocate-at-large, writer-in-residence says much still needs to be done so society is accessible to those with disabilities.

My column last Sunday about Jerry Wolffe and his fight for the rights of those with disabilities garnered many similar stories from readers.
Wolffe, an advocate at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, talked about the battle to make sure those living with disabilities and navigating their way around are afforded the same opportunities as everyone else.
The column also mentioned Gov. Rick Snyder and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who are getting around today with assistance after accidents.
Many took time to tell me about challenges faced by those living with disabilities that most of us could not imagine.
Judy Holmes told me about the region's "broken bus system" and its toll.
"My cousin has cerebral palsy, lives in Rochester Hills and worked in Madison Heights. She had to ask her mom to drive her down Rochester Road to Troy to catch a bus to work. This is not the way we provide equally for our tax-paying citizens," Holmes said.
"We — myself included being a wheelchair user — are one of the last populations that is still discriminated against and left behind even today," said Shane Goddell.
With snow piled on some sidewalks in recent weeks, getting around in a wheelchair has been downright daunting.
And experts say the number of Americans with disabilities will only grow.
"The word disability is an ever-expanding term," said Jim Dehem, president and CEO of Community Living Services, which helps people with disabilities find housing and jobs in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
"If you are not already experiencing one, you will — it is called aging," he said, adding that elderly people often need greater assistance. "A disability can be short or long term. It can occur at birth, or suddenly tomorrow, or in your golden years."
"We are all TABs — temporarily able-bodied," wrote Tom Watkins, president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.
"We need to continue to strive to provide appropriate accommodations — policymakers ought to act as though it someday will impact you or someone you love — because it will," he added.
Others say support for disabled people has had ebbs and flows.
"Under the active leadership of (former) Govs. (George) Romney and (William) Milliken, Michigan was one of the first states to enact and implement a barrier-free standards policy for new and remodeled buildings that serve the public," wrote C. Pat Babcock, who ran mental health and other departments for the two leaders.
"Hopefully Gov. Snyder's relatively brief dependence on crutches will result in a more sensitive and enlightened approach to assuring that people with disabilities have the opportunity not only to visit public buildings, but also to use their education and skills to improve our state," Babcock added.
The unemployment rate among those with disabilities is more than 80%.
Trying to ease the problem, Snyder issued a directive last fall asking state agencies to hire more people with disabilities.
There are many other issues to contend with, as Brenda Mezzo, who takes care of her special-needs daughter, told me.
"There are disabled people who essentially cannot leave their house because they are diapered and there are no public facilities that allow for a parent or caregiver to change them," Mezzo wrote.
Bonnie Levitan, who runs the Southeast Michigan Post-Polio Support Group, said, "Many opt out of going to a new venue because they do not know what to expect. Will the bathrooms be accessible?"
"These people are not wallowing in self-pity or making unreasonable demands," Levitan said. "A few minor changes (to make facilities more accessible) would go a long way to make life easier."