Monday, May 31, 2010

Aldersgate

Jerry and I drove up to Brownwood last week to visit Aldersgate Enrichment Center.  I'd been there many years ago, having discovered it driving back and forth to Abilene, where I grew up.

The Methodist Men of Central Texas, inspired by a visit to the Baddour Center in Senatobia, MS, originally began Aldersgate as a work center for men with borderline intellectual disabilities that handicapped them as far as making their own way in the world, but that also made them a low priority for intervention and services. 

They are the guys who fall through the cracks, who can become easy prey for petty criminals and often wind up in the criminal justice system.

When I first visited, Aldersgate already had a thriving workshop going.  Men--and by that time women--built pallets, assembled plumbing repair kits, had contracts to clean roadside parks, and worked in a variety of other small industries.  It was a bustling, busy place, clearly loved and appreciated by those for whom it represented a unique opportunity for young adults with disabilities whose options had dwindled after the end of high school.

When we drove up shortly before 8:00AM to the community center where we would join the staff and Associates for morning devotions, we were greeted before we could even get out of the car.  Associates were eager to meet us, to know where we came from, and to tell us their plans for the upcoming weekend.  It was a familiar and welcome routine to us.

During devotions, an English bulldog named Charlie wandered around greeting Associates, staff and visitors alike with slobbery affection.

We toured the work areas, met a lot of Associates, and went through one of the two large houses that are now home to 14 Associates and will soon welcome up to 7 more.  It's just coincidence that Down Home Ranch also has 21 residents.  (Many more work full and part-time in the industries.)

Director Michelle Thomas and other staff members spent valuable time answering our questions.  Probably of all the places we've visited in Texas, Aldersgate is the closest to Down Home Ranch insofar as the founding vision is concerned.  There is a clear sense of pride in workmanship and of place that runs throughout the whole community.  There's the same sense of mssion in the staff, the same familiar ease between them and the Associates.

I think the most basic similarity is this: both Aldersgate and Down Home Ranch expect a lot more out of the people we serve than do a lot of places.  We're serious about the work we do.  We know it matters and we depend on it for our common well-being.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If I Needed You

Whew.

Yesterday was Jerry’s birthday, the end of a long month of family birthdays.

Out of 16 members of our immediate family (Jerry and I, our four daughters, three sons-in-law, six grandkids, and one grandson-in-law) nine of us are blessed with birthdays in the merry month of May.

(Actually, I suspect the really merry month was September, when the kids went back to school. "Another cup of coffee, hon'?")

Whatever, every year it’s like a second Christmas season, except this one doesn’t happen on one day, it’s spread from the third to the 24th, with three on the 15th alone! Generally by the time we get to Jerry’s, everyone is tired of revelry, and broke anyway, so not much attention is paid and then we all feel guilty and have to redeem ourselves on Father’s Day.

You can always count on Kelly, however, to make the day.

Not that she was particularly cooperative this year. Sunday I invited her and Sterling over for the birthday supper Monday night but—egad—Monday night is Wal-Mart night! How could Wal-Mart night have not been foremost in my conciousness!?

“It’s OK, Kel,” I said. “Just wrap your present for Dad and make him a card. Do you want to sing the morning song for him with me?”

“What time?” she asked dubiously.

“About 4:30 would be good,” I teased.

“Mo-om!” she groaned, stamping her foot. “We don’t sing at 4:30 in the morning!”

“Well, as soon as you get here then,” I said.

Monday morning we had important meetings starting at 8:00, so Jer was out the door scarce before I could plant a birthday kiss on the cheek, just as the whippoorwill was ending his morning serenade at Michael’s back window in Barnabas House.

At 6:35 I hear a knock on the door and Kelly is standing there in pajamas and slippers, clutching her present and the card she’d made for Dad.

“Sorry, babe, we missed him, but let me get a picture of you for him,” I said. Kelly balked  at this but the camera was handy so I didn’t detain her for long and soon off she pedaled, up the hill and back to bed.

When I read the card she’d made, I knew we had another masterpiece on our hands.

Kelly’s cards are always very creative, often touching, and each a true original. They usually manage to sum up with a request for the recipient to assist Kelly with managing some important aspect of her life.

Happy Birthday Dad

72 is a cool age

for

a

wonderful

special

dad

I’ve

got

since

1984

and

I

do

love you

very much

with all of

my heart and

my life too

I want my dad to be happy.

Jerry Wayland Horton

May 24th

1938

72 years ago

Your mom my grandma had a miracle is you Dad then you

were my mom’s birthing coach

got me out that

is why

how much Sterling loves

you a lot and so do I

you’re

always

going

to be my Dad forever

when you walk me

down the aisle

on

my wedding day

I want to marry Sterling

can you and Mom give me away to Sterling he will

take care of me I won’t forget to …(can’t make out last word.)

The “birthing coach” part is true. Jerry speaks often and eloquently about how very hard he worked as my birthing coach, fetching cups of ice, rubbing my back and feet, and performing other acts of mercy and kindness over the long hours of labor, which left him completely exhausted and in severe need of liquid refreshment.

But I digress.

Jerry and I went on to have a lovely evening together, just the two of us.

I’d picked blackberries and made a proper pie for him, and it turned out very well indeed. He opened his presents, over which he professed great delight—none more than Kelly’s and her card—and we picked up the guitar and sang a few tunes together just for old time’s sake, and learned a new one—Townes van Zandt’s "If I Needed You."

It was a sweet evening.

We do need each other, so much. We’re glad our girl has her place in the world that we’d dreamed of, and that Monday night is Wal-Mart night, and not to be messed with.

We are secure in her love, and in each other’s, and who could ask for more?

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Berry Bountiful Harvest

Berry season is upon us!

Jerry and I picked blackberries Monday evening and I came home and gobbled mine up right away with sugar and cream. Last night (Thursday) he banged around in the kitchen for about 3 hours with 12 open cookbooks making a pie. After all his labor he declared it unfit to eat, but we don’t know yet because we haven’t tried it. (Recipes for pie are welcome. We’re good with cobblers, but not so much with pie.)

His birthday is Monday so I’ll make a pie of some sort. 

Today there were zillions ready to be picked, so I went out to check on the Garden Team, consisting of Crystal, Michael, Matt, Andrew, and Sterling.

Truth to tell, picking blackberries is not their favorite thing to do. It’s hot and sticky—in more ways than one!

But they’re troopers at heart, and Brian, the Ranch Grower, has thoughtfully set up shade tents for when the sun is really beating down.

And anyway, it’s lots more rewarding than last year during the drought, when the berries were few and far between.  This year we can get four times the berries in the same amount of time as last.

Mostly we’ll make jelly out of it to sell. There are also wild plums and mustang grapes we can harvest, though we have a hard time beating the forest critters to those. But yum! Is that stuff good. We’ve tried to make jelly from cactus pears, but only succeeded in making syrup, which didn’t have much taste beyond the sugar in it but did almost glow in the dark.

We get to keep a lot of the jelly. Sometime the batch comes up short and you only get ¾ of a jar, or something like that. Or they don’t set and we use them for syrup (really really good.)

We think about what a special time it must have been for the Indians when the berries ripened and the honey was ready. Those were probably the only sweet things they got to eat all year long.

And they’re still just about the best.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Social Media Made Me Do It

I've had it!  This is the last straw!  Facebook is ignoring me and I'm not going to stand for it any more.  Dang it, I feel just like I did in the cafeteria at South Junior High in Abilene, Texas (time to scrabble around in the aging brain cells here.....) oh yeah, 55 years ago, when I found myself sitting alone staring at my tray of commodity-based (color range: white to pale yellow) school lunch.  While the popular kids (who to my 12 year old brain consisted of everybody but me) all sat at different tables.

Well, I'll get back at Facebook.  I may be a senior citizen, but I'm not giving up.  I went to Barnes and Noble and bought Twitter for Dummies and A Survival Guide to Social Media and Web 2.0 Optimization this morning, and I'm wrapping myself in a cocoon with them and the internet and will not emerge until I'm ready to debut as a virtual social butterfly.

By Monday I expect to know pretty much everythng there is about widgets and RSS and SMS and feeds and CMS, and well, all that stuff.  Hey, I helped get Down Home Ranch certified by the Texas Department of Aging and Disabilities, and good old DADS  invented the three-letter acronym (ok, sometimes 4-letter) (no, not that kind, although they certainly played a role in the process).

So don't mess with me, I can memorize acronyms til the cows come home (and mind you, they do).

Stay tuned, and prepare to be amazed.



Cartoon courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Internet_dog.jpg

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Of Praise and Promise

Friday I attended a reception given by the Chaparral Women’s Club of Round Rock to award grants to a number of local non-profits.

It was fun meeting the other grantees, and I had one of those moments so satisfying and wonderful they go beyond any emotion you can pin a name on.

At my table, a woman spied my name tag and said, “Oh, you’re from Down Home Ranch! I have to tell you that at the regional Special Olympics games, some friends and I began noticing this one team. There was just something so special about them in the way they treated and supported one another. It was very touching, and I had to find out who they were, and they were from your facility.”

Wow. Every hope and every dream we ever had culminated in that one statement. Why? Because that’s exactly what we have been aiming for all along.

When Kelly was born we asked ourselves where the beloved community would come from that we prayed she would belong to as an adult. We checked out various living situations, and we really just didn’t find it at all except in a very few extraordinary places, and we’ve worked very, very hard over the past 19 years trying to turn Down Home Ranch into it.

I’m far from na├»ve. The beloved community can, and often does, drive us nuts with frustration. The beauty of it reveals itself shyly, fleetingly—floating by on gossamer wings.

More often, we are plagued and puzzled by its absence, by our inability to get it right. We do live in reality as created by members of the human species.

But at its best, oh my.

Seeing Rebekah welcoming the dawn with prayer flags as praise music boomed out of the living room.

That was it.

Getting together with fellow staff ladies together last Friday evening for a potluck and a chance to share a little of our non-duty lives with one another. Nothing profound—sing a little, eat a lot, pray some, and end the evening watching a DVD of a female comic who had us howling with laughter.

That was it.

And the day after the cruise last year, the president of the Elgin Chamber of Commerce called up to say a man had contacted their office wanting to know “who those fantastic people were on the cruise.” He’d been so impressed with our Ranchers, how they treated one another and other people, and with our staff—how they treated the Ranchers.

That was it.

I first found it at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Austin. There was a reason that Kelly and St. George’s came into our lives at the same time: We had to experience it before we could ever hope to help it come about.

“Faith is the substance of things unseen, the evidence of things hoped for.”

And that is the very foundation of it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rebekah's Smile II

Well, I promised Rebekah I'd put a tune to "Rebekah's Smile," the poem I wrote her last year for her 25th birthday.  You might recall she asked me about it after Kelly and I sang to her on her 26th birthday.

But I couldn't come up with a tune, and then Rebekah's dad, Fr. John, told me that some of his parishioners at St. Francis, Janie Stein and Martin Bates, were working on putting the poem to music, so I desisted my efforts to see what came of theirs.

A few Sundays ago they were ready to debut the song, so I trundled over to College Station for the morning service, which was delightful.  (If you ever have a chance to hear Fr. John preach on the gospel according to Charlotte's Web, don't miss it!)

After the service and before falling upon the Second Sunday potluck, Janie and the choir passed out copies of the words to Rebekah's Smile.  Rebekah stood, smiling of course, as they began.

Soon there wasn't a dry eye in the crowd.  By the end of the song, Rebekah had been overcome herself and burst into tears, but they were happy tears and Mom Rita and sister Sarah quickly set things right.

This was Janie and Martin's last Sunday at St. Francis, so the congregation wrapped them in a beautiful woven prayer shawl to comfort and protect them as they make their way to Colorado, where they will visit their kids and love on their grandkids for a few months.

I got the music from Janie for the song, and Rebekah's been asking me to sing it for everybody at the Ranch, which I will do soon.

In the meantime, just in case you're interested, here are the words of the song:

                            Rebekah's Smile

Rebekah's smile lights up the world and seems to say,
That everything that worries you will be okay.
Today her laughter fills the sky with happy song,
And if the storm clouds come, it's not for long.

            Rebekah's smile, I wouldn't trade it for the world,
           Not for diamonds, not for gold, or even pearls.
           It breaks like dawn that comes after the night,
           A blessing setting every trouble somehow right.

She runs to throw her arms around you, glad you're there.
Though other people now and then will stop and stare.
I don't know just what they're thinking when they see
How love can be so simple and so free.

          Rebekah's smile, I wouldn't trade it for the world,
          Not for diamonds, not for gold, or even pearls.
          It breaks like dawn that comes after the night,
         A blessing setting every trouble somehow right

You know, the world could learn a thing or two,
From gentle souls who only care that you are you.
You might never win a prize, or make a fortune big or small,
But if you're Rebekah's friend, you've got it all.

Going to Hell in a Wheelbarrow

“The world is going to hell in a wheelbarrow, and this is not going to do retarded people any good.” Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, Mental Retardation, February 1994.

I was skimming the current (April 2010) issue of Intellectual and Development al Disabilities: A Journal of Policy, Practices, and Perspectives, the official publication of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.


Whew! OK, one skims People Magazine. I was doing something else with the Journal.

In any case, when I came to the end of it I saw that Wolf Wolfensberger had a lengthy piece, “How to Comport Ourselves in an Era of Shrinking Resources.” I began reading and promptly felt like I’d been caught in the updraft of an F-6 tornado.

I’ve always admired and respected Wolfensberger. He’s an old-timer on the disability scene, long established by the time our daughter Kelly was born 25 years ago. He pioneered much of the early work examining society’s attitude toward people devalued because of their disabilities, and was one of a handful of people whose work and writings inspired us to build Down Home Ranch.

This current piece qualifies as a true Jeremiad, in the classic meaning of that term. It’s an unflinching analysis of social and economic trends, and of their implications for the lives of traditionally devalued members of society—those who are aged and/or ill, those with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, those who for whatever reason are economically unproductive. It is a prophecy of things to come.

Boiled way down, Wolfensberger’s conclusions are as follows:

1. Our national and world economies are fundamentally unhinged from reality-based principles that would ensure sustainability, with the result that they are in free-fall now and will continue to deteriorate until sane policies are restored;

2. In the historically “wealthy nations” birth rates have fallen so low that the proportion of working people necessary to fund social services, pensions, and other social obligations has fallen to unsustainable levels;

3. In part because of 2, above, social changes in the “wealthy nations” have been trending for decades toward a culture of “death-making,” i.e. solving the problem of the economic drain of unproductive citizens by preventing their birth through abortion (90% in the case of Down syndrome) or hastening their death through euthanasia (soon to be a favored option for us old folks);

4. The implementation of the theories and policies of academic institutions, advocates, and regulatory agencies have been more successful in ensuring the non-productivity of persons with disabilities rather than increasing opportunities for them to be productive;

5. Misuse of the tools of advocacy has led to absurdities in the funding of everything from cancer research to supports for adults with intellectual disabilities, resulting in enormous and indefensible disparities;

6. Traditional family values of thrift, sacrifice, faith, and self-reliance have caved before a culture that encourages debt, obsession with self, and pursuit of materialism;

7. In part because of 5, above, government agencies have assumed ever greater responsibility for meeting needs previously met by families, at far greater cost and with much less efficiency.

Wolfensberger then spells out his proposed remedies, at least insofar as ensuring that some decent level of care survives for people with disabilities. He is clearly not optimistic. He’s been through this before, in 1994, and was branded a lunatic at the time.

However, pretty much everything he predicted 16 years ago has come true, with startling (and depressing) accuracy. His voice resonates with me because I recall in 1984 gently rocking baby Kelly in the autumn sunlight that streamed through the window of the living room of our home in Austin, thinking about…demographics.

I knew where things were headed. That’s another reason we built the Ranch.

Warning: this piece is an equal-opportunity offender. No matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum, you are likely to feel skewered at some point or another.

But if you care about our people I strongly encourage you to read it carefully, think about it deeply, and share it with others.

Because our ability to protect the ones we love will depend on how we respond.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Campers Are Coming! The Campers Are Coming!

As Denise reminds us every time we see her, there are only 27 days left until Ranch Camp begins. In June the first 50 or so campers of the season will tumble out of cars, vans, and buses, ready for a week of fun, friends, and activities.

Ranch Camp doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Naturally we tend to focus on our Ranchers; this is their year-round home, after all. But camp was our first program, created out of nothing in ’95 because we knew residency was still years away and we desperately longed to begin actively working with those we planned to serve.

Why camp? How important could a few days away from home in the country matter  much in the grand scheme of things?  You'd be surprised.

 I’m the one who pushed for camp, and I can testify to that, because when I was a kid, my camp gave me a vision and saved my life and sanity.

Shortly before my ninth birthday, in April of 1951, my father committed suicide after years of struggling with alcoholism and failure.

Like most such families, we lived in chaos, never knowing what to expect.  My grandmother, concerned about me in the aftermath of this tragedy, asked if I wanted to go to a girls’ camp in the Kerrville area for part of the summer. I don’t recall what I answered, but I wound up going to Camp Arrowhead for 5 ½ weeks, the first of several years I would attend.

What most kids learn in a family, I learned at camp—to trust the people in charge of my well-being, to follow rules in place for my own good, to relax in the company of friends, to be given the resources to learn new things, to know what to expect from day to day.

We ate in the “Filling Station” and got doctored at the “Pill Box.” We drew names to see what tribe we would be in (Pawnee or Kickapoo) and competed throughout the term for points to win a plaque.
We went to vespers on Wednesday evening and chapel services on Sunday. In the evenings we watched movies on the lawn and ate mountains of watermelon. I sang with the Pawnee Chorus and still sing the songs we learned.

I loved camp. I lived for camp. Even today, when I’m feeling stressed out, if I take a few minutes and think back to those warm sunny days spent on the banks of the Guadalupe—my holy river—I calm down.

So I know, deep down, how much camp can mean to a person. Even though we only get our campers for a week at a time, Denise and Don make sure they get the heart of the Ranch Camp experience--the friendships, the silly songs, the comforting routines, the chance to find out what you're really good at.  For a precious week, our campers build memories of happy times.

It’s their special time, their own retreat.  And it deserves all the respect we can give it.