Services focus on ABILITIES, not DISabilities

Thursday, July 12, 2007
A balloon toss was one of the games and activities at a recent Pride Group Picnic at Spring Lake Park. Photo by Ken Ross

The services available in Cherokee County for mentally challenged people focus on abilities rather than disabilities, according to Lisa Shiley, program director for the Pride Group, formerly Plymouth Life, which provides services for people with mental illness, mental retardation, brain damage and other disabilities.

The services include counseling and assistance for people who live independently, who live in shared housing and those in residential facilities.

"Mental illness is not restricted to one class of people," said Shiley. She noted that anyone could become brain damaged or otherwise require services such as those provided by the Pride Group, Cherokee County Work Services, the Iowa Department of Human Services and Cherokee County Community Services.

Lisa Langlitz is the director of community services, which coordinates various services provided to clients. Along with the assistance provided in helping people take care of day to day needs, clients are given useful employment at Cherokee County Work Services where such activities as pallet rebuilding, industrial uniform laundry and other contracted services are performed.

Clients who are unable to put in a full day of work are also provided with socialization activities at the Work Services Adult Day Care, a fairly recent addition, made possible through generous donors, including the Cherokee Knights of Columbus, an organization that annually raises funds for Work Services projects.

Activities include cards and other games, TV, crafts and day trips.

The Pride Group is also involved in the quality of life of its clients, as shown in a recent picnic at Spring Lake Park and attendance by a group at the Cherokee Community Theatre production of the Wizard of Oz. Generosity by individuals and businesses help in those activities, such as the donation by Hy-Vee and Fareway of items for the picnic.

Lori Siefken, a caseworker for the Pride Group, noted that 50 years ago, the services provided to many of these clients would not have been possible. Improvements in medication, coupled with a more enlightened philosophy of treatment have vastly improved the quality of life for many individuals.

Milo Miller takes pride in his work at Work Services where he has been employed for 38 years. In a past era, he might have simply been institutionalized, but he is able to cook for himself and do his own laundry at the apartment where he lives by himself in the town of Marcus where he grew up.

The Pride Group has been helping Milo since before he moved from his mother's home. Both parents are now deceased.

Four times a week, he rides to Work Services in Cherokee where he is an eager worker and a friendly colleague to the other clients, always maintaining a positive attitude.

He has slowed down a bit recently due to his age and spends part of the day in the Adult Day Care area.

"I plan to work until I get old," Milo says.

He attends the Marcus Fair every year and does volunteer work. He has been awarded a lifetime membership on the Marcus Fair Board. He attends Peace Lutheran Church every Sunday.

Other things activities he likes are riding horses, visiting nieces and nephews, fishing, watching cowboy movies and visiting the library in Marcus.

Lori Siefken, his case worker from the Pride Group, makes visits to help Milo with shopping, getting him to health appointments and making sure that he is doing such things as cooking in a safe manner.

Ryan Brown, a young man in his 20s, has had a condition since infancy known as a seizure disorder. He had a rather limited prognosis in early childhood. It was believed that he would never even be able to sign his own name.

Now he shares an apartment with two other Pride Group clients in Cherokee where they take turns doing household chores. Pride Group workers assist them with shopping and oversee the taking of medication.

His parents Ron and Jan Brown of Marcus have high praise for the work done to make Ryan more independent than was once thought possible.

"We're thankful to live in this state and in the area we do, where people focus on what can be done rather than on what can't be done," Jan said.

"In the past, individuals with special needs were put away and forgotten about. The Pride Group has been tremendously helpful," Ron said. He says the Pride Group cares about the people they care for and about the families of their clients.

Ron, who works at R.J. Thomas in Cherokee, and Jan, who is a second grade teacher for the Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn School District, also praised Cherokee County Work Services for the opportunities and assistance provided to Ryan.

Jan describes her son as a loving person who strives for independence and is happy most of the time.

Ryan enjoys visiting home and going camping with the family. He likes watching NASCAR, fishing shows and monster trucks on TV.

He has an older sister who was apparently deeply influenced by the experience of living with Ryan. She works at Village Northwest in Sheldon, a residential and vocational facility for people who have experienced traumatic brain injury.

Pauline Unkrur has a high degree of independence, needing only periodic counseling and assistance.

"The Pride Group tries to make you as independent as possible. My social worker has been very supportive. She helps me with anything I ask," Pauline said.

She works at several cleaning jobs at local businesses, some provided through Cherokee County Work Services and others she found by herself.

"A big part of my life is my jobs at Dr. Allender's, Mid Sioux, Cherokee County Work Services, the extension office and Bruce and Deena Jones. These are all great people I work for. I like to work and get out in the community and see people."

Pauline adds, "I've learned that when you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. You just learn from it."

Besides work, activities include watching movies, listening to music, taking care of her cat -- Misty, cooking, walking, visiting the library and developing computer skills.

She also enjoys church services and activities. She attends TOPS conferences and mental health conferences every year.

"Seeing my positive people cheers me up," Pauline says.

People with disabilities in Cherokee County have many positive people to help them and cheer them up. This includes both professionals and others with disabilities.

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