Speaking Out for Craig

by Deanna Johnson

My son, Craig Becker, is so fortunate and blessed to work at The Bearly Used Thrift Store in Park Rapids.  This main street community business is widely considered the happiest and most important in town! It is also one of the busiest stores. Clients who are fortunate to be hired through this supported work program are showered with love, kindness, caring, and patience from the trained and dedicated supervisory staff who help each person learn work responsibilities and accommodate their individual needs.  Unfortunately, because the store is owned and operated by the nonprofit Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center and staffed with people who have disabilities, it has been labeled by the state as not being “part of the community”. It is at serious risk for closure to disabled workers if 14c wage accommodations are eliminated.

Craig has autism and has very limited verbal ability.  Craig had a wonderful high school experience in Park Rapids and part of that was his work experience in the school kitchen, which he loved.  He had great teachers and paraprofessional  staff at school. Upon graduation, Craig started attending the Hubbard County DAC and after the Bearly Used Thrift Store was established, we were thrilled Craig could work there. It was not easy for Craig to learn necessary new tasks , but staff patiently worked teaching him skills and helping him add new skills all along, thus helping him to become a very helpful worker at the store with the able ability to do many different tasks. It sometimes takes a little longer for people with severe disabilities to learn new skills and the consistency of the work setting, trained staff, and disability accommodations made all of this possible for him.

Craig loves his job, staff and co-workers!  He has blossomed socially by working with others and being in this public setting with customers coming and going all day.  I believe because of Craig being non-verbal, he is especially sensitive to the emotions of others around him and is deeply affected by that. When treated kindly, he responds by being a joyful person. Being part of this wonderful and positive work environment, has greatly enhanced Craig’s success in living in the community!  The work experience also enables him to maintain his excellent health by being physically active at work. Craig is 43 years old and thrives on being on the move! Inactivity would cause agitation, and health and pain issues for Craig, so his work is of vital importance for his well-being. If supported work choices are eliminated, Craig and many others with similar needs will be faced with inactivity and many more hours sitting at home with little social interaction or opportunities to be productive.

Craig appreciates the commensurate wages he receives at work, which meets his needs by helping him pay for things that enhance his life. He is able to pay for care beyond MA covered services, such as quality eye glasses, quality shoes, and personal items, and for community activities, such as eating out, concerts, and many other activities he enjoys. Since his living expenses are already covered through disability provisions, earning minimum wages or higher isn’t a necessity. He earns a fair wage based on his ability level.

The self-esteem he experiences from work is amazing! Craig experiences joy and pride from work and when I talk about his work and praise him for his accomplishments, he is very happy and proud.  Because of Craig’s non-verbal status, Craig would be unsafe, vulnerable and unable to cope or learn skills in a competitive work environment.

Choice of services is very important for Craig, as his well-being and his ability to function in the community depend on services that meet his needs. His great foster home staff and I (his mom), assist him to access the community activities he enjoys. Craig is fortunate to receive excellent foster care in a community that so wonderfully meets his needs.  I live very close to Craig’s home so I can provide emotional support and life enhancing activities for Craig.  Other family members are near enough for frequent visits to Craig and for Craig to be involved in family events.

Craig’s family understand his needs and are very grateful and pleased for Craig’s success by receiving services that are so very appropriate for him. It is important for our lawmakers and disability advocates to listen to parents, teachers, and  caregivers of seriously disabled people when they make recommendations for services. We are the people who know them best, both their strengths and their limitations. We need safe, developmentally appropriate, and realistic choices to meet a wide variety of special needs in our communities