Program a success for people with disabilities, mentors
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Jimmy Garcia scoured the large all-purpose room at Neshaminy Manor, a senior living center in Doylestown Township, ready to spring into action.
He walked among the tables where 15 residents were seated, dipping brushes into watercolor paints.
If anyone needed clean water to clean their utensil, Jimmy was on it.
If a painting was ready to be dried, Jimmy was ready with a hairdryer to help it along.
And when it was time to fix a finished product to a colored paper background, Jimmy manned the slicing board to cut it to size.
He moved with purpose and with what those close to him say is true pride.
He seems to beam with the knowledge that in this room, in this setting, he is looked up to and counted upon.
“He’s a happy guy,” said Christine Brauns, an 82-year-old resident at Neshaminy Manor. “I do think he is definitely developing.”
It’s difficult for the 30-year-old living with intellectual disabilities to speak, but his smile tells the tale.
“It’s awesome,” said Garcia, decked out in a red Phillies shirt and matching shorts, when asked about his volunteer work at the manor.
Being put into an authoritative role like this — acting as the helper instead of the one in need of assistance — has done wonders for Garcia, according to Mike Hegarty, who’s been by his side nearly every day for six years.
Since 2011, Hegarty has worked for Shared Support Inc., a company with offices in Warrington that assists adults with disabilities by providing mentors, living support and opportunities to contribute to society through volunteering.
Through Shared Support’s Community Participation Support program, Hegarty is with Garcia every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
They work together to meet goals, such as eating healthy and exercising, and they travel to different locations where they volunteer together.
“Jimmy’s program is geared toward getting job-related skills so if he decides to go for a particular job in the community that pays him, he already has the skills that he needs going into that job,” Hegarty said. “We’re giving back to the community, especially working with the senior citizens, who often get overlooked themselves, so I find it to be rewarding in that aspect.”
Shared Support Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Christine Martin says there are 27 volunteer partnerships, in addition to Neshaminy Manor, across Bucks and Montgomery counties, providing valuable life skills to 40 individuals with disabilities and their Shared Support mentors.
One of Martin’s goals in forming the company in 2005 was to shift the perception that people with disabilities are “broken” or in need of charity.
“If you think about going through a life that way, what kind of validation do you have as a person?” Martin said during a recent interview.
Instead, she describes people like Garcia as “resilient heroes” in need only of creative, insightful and person-centered support.
“You learn by contributing. Being in the community with mentors shows what the community expects for them. If people are segregated, they’ll behave in the culture of segregation — if people are integrated they will behave like the community expects them to behave.”
A recent trip to the Middletown Grange Fair brought Garcia closer to one of the residents at Neshaminy Manor.
Anna Schlimer, 77, was personally escorted by Garcia (and Hegarty) throughout the expansive collection of farm animals and food items offered at the 70th edition of the fair last month.
“Jimmy was a big help,” Schlimer said. “He was fantastic. They got me food and helped me around and showed me all the different animals. Jimmy is wonderful. He’s really come a long way. He’s more open now.”
On Wednesday, Garcia and Hegarty were off to another volunteer gig arranged by Shared Support at Ross Mill Farm in Warwick.
A distinct departure from the tranquil, air-conditioned all-purpose room at the manor, when the guys arrive at the farm — which specializes in the care of pet pigs — they know it’s time to roll up their sleeves.
It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to allow Ross Mill to provide the more than 100 pigs waiting to be adopted with what it describes as top-notch care. That includes spa treatment, veterinary services, grooming, training and behavioral study.
“We do a lot of cleanup,” says Hegarty. “We wash dishes and clean up the pens. We prepare the pens for the pigs that will be boarded there.”
But no matter how down and dirty the work can get, Hegarty says his partner is game.
“Jimmy’s a very active guy. He would much rather go out in the community and do something than sit home on the couch all day. He’ll go to a place and I don’t even have to say anything to him to get him started — he really just genuinely wants to do it,” Hegarty said.
Martin credited Hegarty for getting Garcia to that point and for fostering a work ethic, noting that he used to have trouble concentrating on the task at hand.
Neshaminy Manor Activities Aide Margaret Matthews agreed.
“He sometimes wanders a little bit and Mike will bring him back to help him focus on what needs to be done,” said Matthews.
And he’s not afraid to show tough love when needed, says Hegarty.
“It’s like any relationship,” he said, “but it’s all about talking it out and getting to the root of whatever the issue is.”
Garcia’s head whipped around when he heard the call.
“Jimmy!” said one manor resident who was finished with her painting. “Can you take me back, hun?”
In a flash, Garcia had grabbed the handles of her wheelchair and began the journey down the hall to her room.
“He brings me back all the time,” the woman said.
They shook hands, exchanged smiles and parted ways.
Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com