March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
PRINCETON — Throughout March, the staff and individuals at Gateway Services Inc. will be taking part in activities to increase public awareness of the needs and potential of those with developmental disabilities.
Tracy Wright, Gateway CEO, said the organization promotes the rights of individuals all year long, but this is another chance to share Gateway’s mission with the entire community.
This year’s theme for the awareness month is “See Me For Me!” The theme means looking beyond the disability and seeing everyone the same.
“People with disabilities are your co-workers, friends, neighbors and family. They are a part of your community. They want to be included and can truly offer so much,” Wright said.
Brenda Zehr, an individual at Gateway, said if it wasn’t for the programs offered through the organization, she would just sit home with nothing to do or look forward to.
“I’m always trying to get myself out and be active,” she said.
“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people, and they get to know about me.”
Zehr especially enjoys being involved in her church, where she’s met a lot of friends and is an active member of the choir.
Norine Jones, another individual at Gateway, said her favorite part of the organization is community supervisor Syndi Klein.
“She’s always there for me if I wanted to see my mom or my dad. And she took us to a (Chicago) Cubs game,” she said.
Klein has been with Gateway for five years. She assists individuals with everyday tasks, such as helping them balance a checking book, taking them to lunch, doing laundry and making sure they get out and see what lies beyond Princeton through day trips across the state. She said she feels she was called to do the job, which she looks forward to every day.
“This job is very rewarding, especially when you get to see the individuals improve overtime,” she said.
Wright said it’s important to focus on the ability of the clients at Gateway and not the disability.
“We’ve been fortunate to have many churches, businesses and friends reach out to get involved, but there are many people out there who continue to treat people with disabilities differently. Our goal is that one day, we will all be seen as the same,” Wright said.
Since 1970, when Gateway opened its doors, many improvements have been implemented to put greater focus on inclusion in the community, according to Wright.
When it first began, Gateway had only seven individuals and three staff members. Services were primarily provided in a classroom setting, and individuals lived at home with their families.
“The only other option was institutionalization,” Wright said.
Over the years, Gateway has provided residential homes for individuals to enjoy more freedom and independence. Today, there are six homes throughout the Princeton community where individuals live with peers of similar age.
“Individuals are able to get to know their neighbors. They shop locally. They go out to dinner or to the movies. They enjoy the same things that everyone else does,” Wright said.
Gateway’s day programming has also transitioned and moved away from the structured classes. The programs are now more community-based, which provides individuals even more opportunities to go out and about on a weekly basis.
Employment for the individuals is another factor that’s evolved. Gateway started out providing sheltered workshops for the individuals to work up to six hours a day, five days a week, and earn way below minimum wage.
“Work was based on piece-rate, and it was extremely difficult for some,” Wright said.
When Gateway made the decision to shut down the workshops, the focus shifted to community employment.
“We now work with a number of local employers to ensure that individuals are paid minimum wage or higher in a real job where they have non-disabled peers,” Wright said.
Gateway Services, Inc. provides a variety of services in Bureau, Marshall and Putnam counties. To learn more about the organization, visit www.gateway-services.org or “like” Gateway Service, Inc. on Facebook.