Newsletter – July, 1999

**Companion Resources Newsletter**

edited by Paul D. Leichty

Volume 1, No. 7 July 1999

Greetings to all community-builders from Companion Resources!

I have tried to make this newsletter positive and upbeat as we talk about creative ways to build community. However, my own experience this past month has reminded me of the realism that community builders need to face in a world that is individualistic, materialistic, and driven by power and money. So I want to talk about that a bit today.

First, some exciting news on the storefront!

This story is about a for-profit business, a non-profit social service agency, and a church program institution. It is also a story about our family. It is about one of us who gained a job, one of us who lost a job, and one of us with more than enough of a job.

On the surface, the biggest blow was my son losing his job. It took Vocational Rehabilitation and the agency they contracted a year after graduation to find Nathan this job. In the middle of the year, it was cut from fifteen hours a week to nine. Nathan loved his job and from all indications was doing well. He had “graduated” from being coached to job retention status and just celebrated one year of working there.

I’ll spare you the gory details. The bottom line was that current business practice dictates that employers expect their employees to be ever more productive and do more and more tasks. It’s not enough anymore to do one or two things well. Multi-tasking is the name of the game.

For many of us, that is good news. We don’t like assembly lines. We like to do a variety of things. However, for persons with disabilities, it can mean being asked to do tasks which they are not trained for or not skilled in along with the tasks which they do well. When they are unable to meet the employer’s standards for the new tasks, they lose their whole job. It seems that more and more, for the employer, it is simply not “efficient” and “productive” to carve out a niche for a person with disabilities.

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For more information about Nathan and his specific disability called fragile X syndrome, see the following links on the Companion Resources web site.

Fragile X – https://companionresources.org/Learning/Fragile_X

Nathan’s Graduation – [Unfortunately, currently unavailable]

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Unfortunately, the push for productivity and the expendibility of individual employees extends into the social service field as well. It has been an eye-opener for our family to understand what is needed to manage a residential facility for adolescents with severe disabilities. So much is expected of both a residential manager (which is what my wife is) and the employees she supervises, that it is rare for anyone to stay on the job any length of time at all. An outside bureaucrat expressed surprise that my wife was still there, and she hasn’t even reached the end of her second year!

It seems to be expected that employees are a dime a dozen and the system will use them up, wear them out, and let them fend for themselves once their physical or mental health gets so bad they can’t take it anymore. Meanwhile, the folks being served have to cope with a dizzying array of new helpers in and out of their home environment.

Of course, if you ask, the bottom line is money. Government funds cover only so much and the top administrators spend much of their time angling for more money with ever more elaborate fund-raising activities. So while taking away even the limited opportunities for persons with disabilities to earn their own way, we lay on business people a subtle guilt trip so that they will fund the United Way and other community charity efforts. However, the shortfall still comes off the backs of overworked and underpaid direct care workers, managers who have to continually cover the work when understaffed, and/or a lower standard of care for those who are most needy.

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To learn more about the whole field of disabilities, visit the Companion Resources disabilities page at https://companionresources.org/Learning/Disabilities

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One would like to think that the church would be different. However, as middle-class Christians, like their counterparts in the rest of society, get richer, we also become more isolated from the concerns of those who are getting poorer.

Even our mutual aid societies, originally organized to help us as a community care for those who need it most, have now become centers for managing wealth. Granted, by means of these systems, many dollars still go to worthwhile causes. But as staff positions are added for foundations and mutual funds and public relations, funds are cut for advocacy programs for families who truly need a community of support around them as they wrestle with long-term disabilities, including mental illness.

One of the results is that I have a job. At least you might call it a job. To accomplish goals that hard-pressed already part-time staff don’t have time for, I am hired as an independent contractor. For the institution, it is cost-effective; for me, it is marginal at best. But I do the work because it is important work. It is the work of building community, the work of being a companion, the work of bringing resources to aid those that most need it.

That’s also what Companion Resources is all about. To try to make it work, I make feeble attempts to sell the goodies of technology–computers, software, web services, long distance phone services, etc. My attempts are feeble, because although I do believe these can be the tools for building community, the reality is that they are powerful tools that can also destroy community. So, as I wait for the wheels of the system to slowy creak into action to try to find my son another job, to take some of the workload off of my beleaguered wife, and to hire someone for our church institutions (maybe me) at a salaried level, I wonder whether I’ve also sold out to the same individualistic, materialistic, dehumanizing system. I pray for God’s mercy and direction.

Blessings to all of you in your work of building community in the month to come!

Paul D. Leichty

PDLeichty@cresources.org

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