This past Wednesday I decided to “do a little driving in the burbs”. I sat in my driveway, turned on the app. It didn’t take long. Mandy at “Streamers Coffee” .5 miles away. I thought 💭 “What, a coffee shop this close to me”? Sure enough, right there on 86th, sits a dapper commercial niche with a coffee shop on the corner. I parked the car and hit the “Arrived” button. A little message came up that said “This is Mandy’s First Lyft Ride”. About then a young woman came out of a business across the street. I assumed she was Mandy. “Hi there, Mandy will be out in a minute”. As I looked at this business it was obvious there were a number of folk working there with developmental issues. I then spotted a young woman sporting a backpack and listening to her head phones, walking towards my car. This past month I shared stories with you about my six years of working with people with developmental disabilities, 30 some years ago. I knew immediately that she had Down’s syndrome. She asked if she could sit in the front seat. I said “Of course”. I hit the destination button: 33.5 miles estimated travel time: 1hr 8mins. We were off to the far edge of SE Aurora from the edge of NW Arvada. My longest drive ever.
I now need to share with you how folks like Mandy were served in 1981 in Oklahoma. They had two options. They either lived in one of the three very large state institutions or a skilled nursing home. There were no group homes or community based work or living situations. This was in great part, a result of a highly corrupt relationship between the nursing home industry and the State of Oklahoma. There were very many of us who would go off to professional meetings and see how other states had found very dynamic ways of integrating folks who struggle with these issues. To make a long story short: I started the first group home in Oklahoma, with a grant from the Reconciliation Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In January of 1981 we opened Oklahoma’s first ever group home, in a classic old house 🏠 , on Elm Street in the heart of Enid, Oklahoma.
PEOPLE FIRST: I have had many pleasant surprises in my new gig as the Pastor of First Christian Church. We provide space for the many Mandys of Greeley to gather on Thursday evenings in our Fellowship Hall. They do all sorts of activities, fund raisers, educational events and they even have a client-run board. I have been invited to participate in many of their activities. These folks carry the same anomalies, birth accidents, etc as the folks I pastored as a chaplain more than half my lifetime ago. Most of them have spent their lives living in our communities and not warehoused away out of sight. My heart has smiled many times to think of the liberation that began with that first group home in Enid.
The hour drive with Mandy was a delight. She was very engaging. “Stupid Access-a-Ride forgot me. I like Lyft better”! “What kind of music do you like? I like everything but Miley Cyrus”. She got home and as she got out of the car she said, “That was really fun, Mr. Mark”.
We do better by the Mandys of our world than we did not so long ago. It was the longest ride I ever have given, and a reminder that we do occasionally get it right.
Onward and Upward,