I am finally back to blog after five blissful days of spending time with Bean.
Today, students released early so that teachers could have staff development time. Usually, this is a colossal bore, but today myself and a few other select teachers got to go on an EC field trip, which was right up my alley. We went first to visit the local MRF or Materials Reuse Facility, I think that is what the R stands for, but it might be Materials Recycling Facility. Basically, it is a giant warehouse filled with discarded materials [looks mostly like mountains of trash]. Employees of this facility use conveyor belts and machines to sort, compact, and bundle recyclable materials like plastic, glass, cardboard, aluminum, and steel. Many of the people employed have been in our program or personally taught by me at the local high school. This center provides a very needed recycling program for our community and provides jobs for many people who have developmental disabilities. It is a win-win situation that will grow and expand in the coming years. It was very exciting to see these young adults collecting recycling from the cars and vans that pulled in to deliver it, sorting by hand and using conveyor belt sorting systems, and moving mountains of materials around using forklifts and front loaders. Those mountains of trash– empty plastic laundry detergent jugs, milk jugs, 2 liter soda bottles, cans, boxes– were an incredible sight piled up like colorful and chaotic mountains offering a real visual on how much space we can save in landfills if we just recycle anything and everything we can. I currently recycle some things, but I do so inconsistently by bringing bags of paper, cardboard, and plastic to school for the recycling team to sort and cart away. Seeing how easy it is now in our community to recycle– we don’t even have to sort anything; they do it for us– made me vow to call today to get a blue cart to collect in at home. My trash service will pick up the recyclables for me and take them to the MRF center every other week. How simple and wonderful is that?
Our next visit was to the Vocational Rehab Facility on the boulevard where people who need vocational rehab can work at jobs like sorting paper for the recycling center, packaging, and small assembly tasks. As soon as we walked onto the workroom floor, I saw a former student, Jeffrey, who ran away from his station to hug me. I continued to receive hug after hug from former students who were working at this facility. One talked to me about how he sorts paper by whether it has color printed on it or how heavy it is. One explained how he was using a small sharp tool to stick into an assembly piece from a local manufacturing plant to make sure the holes were viable so that these parts could be used. We heard a lecture on how funding has been drastically cut at the state and federal levels, but especially the state level for funding that provides opportunities and jobs for persons with developmental disabilities, mental disabilities, or who require vocational rehabilitation. It makes me angry that this population is seen as so marginal that their funding can be so easily snatched away and that more people, including myself, are not so outraged that they are doing something about it.
Our next stop was to an adult day program on Main Street for adults with moderate to severe developmental disabilities. Here I ran into two former students. Matthew jumped up from his chair and ran around the tables to give me a giant hug. I did not think he was going to let me go. Garrick is a student who I had not seen in years and years. He was one of my first and most special students. He is now 31 years old. I looked at him and he did a double take. He said simply in his gentle robotic fashion, “Kim Whitman,” and then he put out his palm and said, “scratch hand.” I asked him who the 15th President of the United States was, and he answered correctly James Buchanan; he then told me as I asked for each one that the 23rd was Benjamin Harrison, the 33rd was Harry S. Truman, and the 39th was Jimmy Carter. I asked which number Barrack Obama was and he answered, “number 44.” This student knew this in high school, but I always got a thrill from quizzing him on presidents, world capitals and random geographical facts and historical dates. As a young adult with Autism, he could remember teachers license plate numbers, and state all of these random facts, but could not tell you the sum total of a dime, a quarter, a nickel, and two pennies. No matter who they are or how long ago I have taught them, they always remember me. No matter if my hair is a different color, or I am wearing sunglasses, or it has been 12 years since they have seen me. They remember and they are happy to see me.
Finally, we visited a local group home which was clean and tidy. It had six neat and personally decorated bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living area with a large flat screen television, a long communal dining table, and a kitchen sporting charts that listed who was on which kitchen or domestic duty for each day of the week. Person County Group Homes are exceptional. They a Godsend for the people who live in them and for the families who love and support these adults. It is so important for adults with developmental disabilities to be able to grow up and leave home and lead as independent adult lives as possible. They blossom and thrive in settings where they share daily domestic tasks with other adults and enjoy social and community involvement outside of their family of origin.
After this awesome field trip, I headed to Tricia’s Coffee Shop for a coffee ice cap where I ran into one of my foster children with his social worker. Now, I am about to head out into this beautiful, warm evening for a walk/run.