Mutual support key to NDS

If you travel south on Ash Street in Hillsboro at the right time, you will see a tall man, Stan Flaming, waving to welcome you to town.

Be sure to wave back. It means the world to him.

A little more than five years ago he wasn’t there. Nor were his “family” members.

Northview Developmental Services, Inc., hadn’t come to town yet. But they are in Hillsboro now, and, according to Bev Plett, Hillsboro residential training manager, “We are a lot of fun.”

NDS is the state and county appointed provider of community services to developmentally disabled children and adults for Harvey and Marion counties. Part of their service program includes residential housing for their consumers.

Hillsboro NDS consumers live in 12 apartments on North Ash.

“When this all started,” Plett said, “there were eight people. Now we are up to 12.”

She said seven members of the group have relatives who are in town, and all but one have relatives living in the area.

Eleven of the local consumers are transported to and from Newton for their employment. One resident works with the local staff at the apartments.

“We are here to provide support to our people-a safe environment for them to be surrounded by things they like and activities they can do and enjoy,” Plett said.

Each resident lives in his or her own apartment with personalized decor.

“Some of the apartments are so clean you could eat off the floor,” said Plett. “Others, well, they are more like my house.”

Consumers fix their own breakfasts and sack lunches for work, sometimes with the help of staff. In the evening they have a “dormitory” supper.

The staff of nine takes turns cooking supper and serving it in the apartment’s community building.

“This building is for all the residents of the complex,” Plett said. “But we seem to use it most. We really appreciate their allowing us to use this area as much as we do. It is so nice.”

Besides suppers, residents enjoy birthday parties, holiday parties, and ‘just because’ parties, Plett added.

“Our favorite thing to do is eating,” she said. “But, we walk, too. We try to walk a lot, and at least a little every day.”

The supper meal is a happy part of their day. Plett describes it as “family time.” Consumers share what has happened during the day, remember the past, hope for the future, and enjoy being together.

“We are not hermits,” Plett said. “We have active lives. There are things we really enjoy doing, and we try to get them done.”

Plett said several of the residents had come from institutional-type facilities, and didn’t know how to live in “community” when they first arrived in Hillsboro.

One individual had a traumatic experience in the institution, and quit speaking for a number of years.

“We included that person in whatever we did,” Plett said. “We talked and laughed and loved the individual. And we didn’t push. It was up to that person.”

About a year ago the individual spoke one word. It was enough to warm the hearts and wet the eyes of staff.

“We got on the phone right away and helped the individual contact the family and talk to the them,” Plett said. “We were all in tears.”

Today, that individual talks, smiles and has more fully joined this “family.”

Plett said the person had learned to trust again and felt loved and safe.

Consumers range in age from 18 to 65. Their interests span a wide range, too.

Jennifer Dies, an alum of Hillsboro High School, is “the biggest Trojan fan ever.” She also supports the Jayhawks.

Stan Funk, Jennifer Dies and Don Heiser love to participate in Special Olympics basketball. The Hillsboro groups have been very successful, taking first and second place in last year’s competition.

“Not everyone enjoys the same things,” Plett said. “So we try to make sure everyone gets to do his or her ‘own thing.’ We don’t herd them all together here and there.”

John Garrard is involved in the Newton bowling league.

Pam Vsetecka has a special gift with calender dates. She is able to tell you dates of appointments from long ago, and what day of the week a particular date is on. She also likes to shop.

Monday night is a special night for the “guys.” Plett said they meet in one of the apartments to watch wrestling.

“We love the wrestling,” Heiser volunteered with a big smile, “We have a good time on Mondays.”

The women in the group have “Girls Chat Club” where they get together to talk, laugh, eat and have fun. Earlier this year they each saved their money for a trip to Kansas City, where they stayed in a motel, went shopping and, of course, ate out.

Matt Krebs, former women’s basketball coach at Tabor, and his team adopted the group and took them out for Thanksgiving dinner, brought them Tabor T-shirts, and tickets to the games.

“We loved it,” Plett said.

Members of some of the local churches take consumers to church, and sometimes out to lunch.

The group has special rules for outings. For example, they recently attended a wedding and the staff reviewed the “wedding rules.”

“When we go to the games, there are ‘game rules’ we know we can’t grab the player we know and talk and talk,” Plett said. “He is there to play, we are there to watch and cheer. So we have eating out rules, wedding rules, shopping rules and whatever else we need.”

Plett said it was important to her and her staff to teach the consumers to “go beyond themselves.”

“They have been used to asking and receiving, and not so much sharing, so we are working with them to look out for others,” she said. “And along with this comes learning to handle a budget.”

Plett said each consumer is paid by their employers in Newton, receive monthly government checks, and sometimes get money from family members for special things. The staff will sit with each consumer to discuss their money situation.

“We look at what they want to do, maybe it is almost time to go to the circus,” Plett said. “They will have to make a choice whether they want to go out to Pizza Hut Friday night, or save their money to go to the circus next week.”

She also works with them to save for buying gifts for Christmas and family birthdays.

Consumers are proud of their work. NDS contracts with outside companies for consumer employment.

“They do all sorts of things,” Plett said. “One of them worked in the saw shop and made the little spikes we saw along Highway 50 during its reconstruction.”

She said another person stuffs fiber into big bags and weighs them. The bags are then mixed into concrete as filler.

And another consumer is involved in the recycling program and separates bottles and jugs.

The Newton Kansan has contracted for stuffing mailers; Dillons has hired one local consumer to check shelves and make sure the cans are turned outward so shoppers can easily see labels. Another is contracted with Meadowlark to do piece work on the Grasshopper Riding Mower seats.

While the consumers are learning to live as a community, they still encounter tough moments.

Plett says the majority have medical problems which staff can help with. But the level of communication is a big problem within the community, as it is often with those living outside of the apartments.

“It’s a people thing,” Plett said. “It’s called learning to get along.

Plett is also proud of her staff, whom she credits for creating the environment that allows the consumers to learn to trust, grow, to play, and to live as valuable members of the community.

“We have a low staff turnover here,” Plett said. “That makes us more of a family. There aren’t changes in staff every couple of months. It allows us to build relationships.”

Staff who have moved on to other positions don’t stay away. Consumers become a part of their “outside” life.

Plett said staff bring their own families in, and they come back to visit, to share in birthday parties, and even in weddings and showers.

Plett said the families of consumers were also participants in their lives.

“Their families are a great source of support, too,” she said. “And we appreciate so much their willingness to be with us and spend time with us.”

Plett said families come and play games, take the group member out for outings, especially on weekends, and most of the consumers go home for holidays.

“We want to be part of the Hillsboro community,” Plett said about the future of the program. “We don’t want charity. We want to be neighbors.”

She would like to see the consumers be employed locally and involved in the community itself.

Plett said: “We want to be seen as part of the community and not as ‘them.’ We aren’t a scarry group, but sometimes we do act unique.”

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