The other night I was driving to the Thunder-Sky Gallery because we were going to have a meeting about how to best help people with disabilities access real employment, with actual living wages and a chance to move forward. I had pulled together this informal group of likeminded people who actually do that, so we could talk shop and figure out how to negotiate all the systems and other forms of bull-shit that can impede the simplest and yet most arduous of tasks: finding meaningful work.
On the way there I got a call from a woman named Beverly, out of the blue. She said she'd heard about Thunder-Sky, Inc. via an article online, and she was floored. She was Raymond's job coach when he worked at M. E. Heuck, a company that makes kitchen utensils. Raymond worked there for quite a while. Beverly said that he had the strongest work ethic of anyone she'd ever seen. "He was a true gentleman," she said. "He was so focused on his work it was amazing to watch." One time he came in off the bus looking roughed-up with a bruise on his eye. Although he didn't talk too much, Beverly said she could tell that he had been mistreated probably by some teenaged boys. "That kind of stuff happened a lot to him," she said. Raymond, that day, just went right to work. It was as if he was trying to work all the hurt out by staying in the routine.
Everyone who really knew Raymond knew he was a workaholic. All he really ever wanted was a good job, which often means also having a good life.
Beverly said, "He really didn't need a job coach. He could do the job. But it was my pleasure to be able to visit him on the job when I did, just so I could talk with him and be in his presence."
I got kind of choked up talking to her because it was one of those moments when things seem to coalesce, and those kinds of moments catch you so off-guard you almost want to hide from them. We're always trying to think of the best way to continue Raymond's legacy. The art gallery, and archiving all his drawings, is one way, but another way might be to figure out the best ways to help people like him get real jobs, and to put those best ways into practice all across the area.
So that night the group (we're calling ourselves The Believers and we're keeping it kind of on the down-low) met at his namesake gallery, and it was great. People totally focused on the same issue talking about struggles and successes and also stumbling onto a sort of collective point of view: the best way to help people is to get them working through connecting them with businesses and employers who need really good workers. That sounds really simple, but in the over-complicated world of "helpful" bureaucracies that surround the lives of people with disabilities like creepy force-fields, this simplicity is often drained out so that every good idea gets stretched into a process that eventually yields nothing. I know that sounds cynical, but that's it in a nut-shell.
How then do you decrease the bull-shit and increase the possibilities of real stuff happening?
Do it without making a big deal out of it. Concentrate on one person at a time. Concentrate on one or two businesses at a time. Get to know both. Find out what the person needs and wants. Find out what businesses need and want. Make the connections matter without a lot of fuss or process. Just do it. And then keep doing it.
At the end of the discussion, we figured one of the best ways to make things happen is to keep doing what we're doing, and to meet regularly to compare notes and get new ideas from one another. We also decided that each of us should invite one other likeminded person to come to the next get-together in January. Grow slowly, keep each other focused, celebrate and learn from each connection we make. Keep moving forward. Don't let the need for bureaucracy and funding overrule the need for sanity and real accomplishments. We figured that we use the system the way the system is supposed to be used by actually helping to make things happen, without enslaving ourselves to process and procedures.
I'll be inviting Beverly to the next one.