By DAVID GREEN
Morenci’s senior class members weren’t sure what they were in for when they drove to Adrian May 9 to visit the HOPE Community Center.
Government class teacher Heather Walker arranged for the visit after attending a workshop at HOPE during a professional development session on Martin Luther King Day.
The organization supports adults with a variety of disabilities, and Ms. Walker recalled from her experience that many of HOPE’s members are more comfortable entering the personal space of a stranger than a typical teenager.
Senior Amber Wright remembers how she approached the visit.
“I had it set in my mind that I would walk fast so that nobody had a chance to touch me,” she wrote in a follow-up report.
Logan Drummond figured that the HOPE members wouldn’t be able to communicate with him, and Daniel Stutzman said he was clearly out of his comfort zone.
All the seniors were in for a surprise when they walked through the doors of the HOPE Center.
"It was a blast of love and friendship," Brittany Brigman said, as the visiting students were warmly greeted with handshakes and a few hugs.
Logan soon had many conversations with residents, and Daniel enjoyed some “mellow, relaxing talk.”
Amber slowed down quickly.
“When I entered the building, I saw their huge smiles and my heart melted a little with each handshake,” she said.
The HOPE Community Center was established in 1976 in response to a change in Michigan’s care for those with special needs. Before that, explained HOPE program director Scott Watson, people with disabilities often spent their lives in institutions or hospitals with limited freedoms and rights as citizens—a concept studied by the students in government class.
The de-institutionalization led to many people returning to Lenawee County, Watson said, and that created a culture shock for both sides.
The organization began in a room at a gas station and slowly grew into its own facility located on Baker Street in Adrian.
It was a grassroots effort that got HOPE off the ground, Ms. Walker said, and the agency still operates without direct government funding. That leads to another concept from government class—the notion of civic virtue—where people act for the well being of the community as a whole.
Many of the activities the members engaged in last week were typical of a day at HOPE. The difference was that they went through the day with their guests from Morenci Area High School.
Students took a tour of the facility, then played an informal game to learn more about the history and philosophy of HOPE. That was followed by “coffee hour” during which time students and HOPE members read newspaper clippings in small groups and everyone discussed the topic and came up with a summary.
Amber noted that many residents didn’t seem to be paying attention. They might have been staring off into the distance or fidgeting, but when it came time to talk about it, she could tell they took it all in.
The activity shot down one stereotype. Disabled doesn’t mean stupid.
“I was surprised how smart they are,” Ben Hutchison said.
“Even if they’re disabled, they can still do things,” said Marcus Burciaga, “but in their own way.”
His table mate has a job and enjoys camping trips.
“Many kids were surprised at how interested and interesting the members were,” Ms. Walker said.
A role-playing experience gives visitors a much clearer understanding of some common disabilities.
“The Disability Sensitivity Workshop is funded through Lenawee Community Mental Health Authority,” explained HOPE executive director Scott Whitehouse.
It’s given to many groups and organizations throughout the year—both at the center and off campus—but he believes it’s most powerful when coupled with programming at HOPE.
A muffled hearing test gives participants the opportunity to experience hearing loss. Trying to unwrap a piece of candy while wearing work gloves demonstrates the challenge someone with poor fine motor skills faces. Directions for folding a paper shape are given too rapidly to comprehend, simulating the struggle of someone with a cognitive disability.
While students engage in these tasks, a HOPE staff member pretends to be a little pushy and makes statements such as, “I can’t believe you can’t do this.”
The intentional disrespect shows how it feels to not understand something that everyone else seems to get. The leader follows each exercise with questions such as, “How would this affect your daily routine? Your social life? Your job?”
There’s also a discussion about bullying and appropriate language usage.
“I never realized that some of the things people say are more hurtful than I knew,” senior Amanda Osborne said. “I am going to try my hardest to change what people say about people with disabilities.”
That sentiment was echoed by Max Gautz who appreciated being educated about labeling individuals with disabilities.
The day ended with an air hockey tournament, an experience that brought everyone together for a final spirited activity.
And was it the success that Ms. Walker was after?
“This, I believe, was the best senior project I could have ever asked for,” Paige Slor said. “It really touched my heart.”
Ms. Walker can’t think of a better civic project.
“It’s a great way to end the year for seniors,” she said. “I definitely want to do it again.”
It was an eye-opening experience for Kourtney Cousino.
“The HOPE Center made me realize how much more I have to learn about the world and how important everyone is—or should be—to society,” she said.
Carolyn Blaker said the experience encourages her to look for ways to give back to the community, and Ms. Walker heard from three students who want to volunteer at the center.
Some fast friendships were developed during the visit
“Everyone was so friendly and came up to greet us with a handshake, a high-five or even a hug,” said Luke Craig. “A lot of them greeted us at the door when we got there, but even more said goodbye after spending the day with us.”
• The mission of the Hope Community Center is “to empower adults with disabilities and promote their citizenship.”
Members volunteer for several community service projects during the year, from creating trauma dolls for hospitals to growing vegetables for sale and for soup kitchens.
For more information about the organization, call 517/265-2410 or visit the website at www.HopeCenterLenawee.org.