Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is "Free" Really Free?

What is compassion? How do we, as members of the greater community, show our regard for people with an obvious disability without making them feel different? How do we include them when their resources are limited? These are questions that most people will have to deal with, at one time or another, as adults with developmental disabilities appear at events and social gatherings.

Our Ranchers are part of their community. They volunteer, they attend local events, they work at local businesses, and they spend their money at local establishments. Most people are appreciative of our Ranchers' ability to function as members of society and of the guidance that our staff gives them in dealing with members of the public. We try very hard to help our Ranchers find a way to make their disability a secondary issue.

However, there is a faction of the community that feels it's necessary to give gifts to our Ranchers simply because of their disability. This group of people is kind hearted and I believe their actions are meant to be a blessing to people whom they see as less fortunate. However, they are, in essence, creating a microcosm of a welfare society. We go to a local festival, a farmer's market, or a church event and our Ranchers come home loaded down with water bottles, hats, scarves, lanyards, pencils, pens, note pads, and trinkets. While they are temporarily thrilled with this outpouring of material kindness, the reality is that it feeds the desire for more "free stuff" and teaches the wrong lessons to people who desperately need to learn to place value on people, character, and relationships rather than material things.

The first result is the creation of people who walk around with their hand out everywhere they go. It fosters a lack of social skills, promotes a misunderstanding of the value of their fellow man, cultivates a disregard for a strong work ethic, and squashes the development of personal generosity. The disabled person comes to believe that the people who are their friends are those who give them "free stuff" in the form of gifts with no real or lasting value. This is dangerous at best, putting the disabled person in peril of being easily taken advantage of.

The second result is that it undermines the efforts of Triangle Cross Ranch to integrate our Ranchers into the community as respected memebers. To be respected, a person needs to have at least an elementary understanding of personal responsibilitiy. Care givers work very hard at teaching this to their charges who have limited understanding. How quickly their efforts are negated by well-intentioned but short sighted people who feel better personally because they gave something to a "poor disabled person." The Rancher obsesses about the next opportunity to get a freebie, to go shopping on someone else's money, and to get more and more stuff to fill the hole that should be filled with self respect, a sense of accomplishment and real relationships.

The third result is a bedroom stuffed with things that do not qualify as resources (no matter how well-intentioned the giver) and lay unused and forgotten as the next opportunity of "free" is pursued. Ranchers have enough trouble managing their essentials without adding volumes of nonessentials to the mix. It creates confusion and frustration along with other associated behavior problems. Obsession, bad temper, angry outbursts, isolation, panic attacks and a host of other issues become the order of the day in their attempts to manage their many useless treasures. The price paid for "free stuff", by staff and Ranchers alike, is great.

Here's the bottom line on kindness to people with disabilities:

God cares about the spiritual formation of each and every person, including the disabled. He is working actively to mold them into His image. All the while, we, as kind-hearted as we think we are being, work against His goals of forming Christ in each person.

Our Ranchers don't need more "stuff." They need to be included as friends who stand on equal footing with other members of the community. Include them in your activities, talk to them without condescending or exaggerated tones, adjust conversations so they can participate, take them in as part of your group, but don't give them anything for free. I don't know about you, but I don't give "free stuff" to all of my friends every time I see them, and the ones who expect it aren't my friends for long. Why would we treat people with disabilities any different? Why would we foster resentment when we could form healthy relationships?

Our Ranchers don't have the real resources to pay for their own living expenses, don't have the skills to produce these resources and don't understand the need for this. Their families pick up the slack or the Rancher does without. These expenses include safe housing, 24-hour staffing, transportation, high quality food, toiletries and all of the basic necessities of living a healthy life style. It's a great irony that adults with developmental disabilities overflow with things they don't need, and yet, so many live in povery or depend on family members to provide the necessities. Trinkets and "free stuff" cannot provide medical services, housing, or loving care, which all come at a high cost. The greatest kindness is to help a person in a real way on a long term and consistent basis. This requires a thoughtful approach and a sacrifice on the part of the giver--both of which will help create the image of Christ in the giver.

So how do we show kindness to people with disabilties? Stop giving them "free stuff." Include them as equal members and donate towards their real needs. If you're going to give, give of yourself in a real way. God has given the free gift of salvation to each of us. That's enough "free" for a lifetime! He asks us to give of our substance and of ourselves to those who need grace and mercy. Keep your "free stuff" for someone else who can bear the cost having it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Humble Perspective

Many, if not most, of our Ranchers have been on the waiting list for government funding for 10 years or more. Our Ranchers' families pay out of their own pockets in order to place their Rancher at TCR and many pay dearly in terms of doing without. The people who pay the bills are parents with households and businesses to consider; elderly parents living on a fixed income; siblings raising their own children or grandchildren and trying to pay for college; and Ranchers, themselves, who are quickly using up the money left to them through a settlement or trust fund.

The Ranch intentionally works hard at keeping costs at a minimum. I don't think you'll find an organization that does more with less than TCR. But...costs rise every year and our Ranchers' resources diminish. SSI and SSDI funds don't provide enough to cover a person's basic needs, reducing them to living in poverty if this is their only resource. Taxes go up, stock markets go down, food costs rise, electricity and propane bills skyrocket, and the cost of paying qualified staff goes up proportionately.

For a person with intellectual disabilities, making up the difference is not just a matter of going and getting a second job. Indeed, getting a first job is difficult, if not downright impossible, depending on the disability. Very few employers want to deal with a seizure disorder or bear the cost of providing the kind of oversight that our Ranchers need while working. No, most people with disabilities depend on others to provide the necessities of life, whether this translates to family or government, and the people that control the purse strings effectively control their world.

So why am I telling you this?

I'm telling you this because our Ranchers live at the Ranch both by choice and by necessity. Some families choose to stay in control of their loved one's world, rather than give them over to a system that has set them up to fail in the past. Others are waiting for the government money to come through, but there just isn't enough money to go around; the list gets longer every day and there doesn't seem to be a logical way for the average Joe to predict how that money will be allocated.

So whose job is it, anyway, to provide for adults with disabilities? In my humble opinion, it's the job of the family, the community and church all working together, caring for their own. I'm not a big fan of the "it takes a village" mentality, but in this scenario, it is applicable. If the community and the church would get behind a family with a disabled child, we wouldn't need government programs that regulate us into poverty. If the community and the church invested in their own members, people with disabilities could live where it was best for them, and not be forced into a "one size fits all" mold. If the community and the church focused on doing the right thing in their own hometowns, the only people who would live in poverty would be those who actively chose it.

Pie in the sky? Maybe. Disagree if you want. Say it's a pipe dream if you want to, but I'll tell you that here at the Ranch we have as close to this dream as I've ever seen. Community and church work together here to help provide a hope and a future for 10 disabled people. Yes, the cost is high. Yes, it gets messy. No, it's not perfect, but neither are the people who are investing in us. However, the process not only provides assistance for our Ranchers, but creates human beings with heart and compassion--pretty rare commodities these days.

And where do you fit? My challenge to you is to go out and find a way to invest in your local community and those people at risk that are near to you. Take care of home before you branch out, and then...branch out. Enlarge your community to encompass more and more people. Go on. They need you. They're waiting for you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Feed Ten

Facebook is a new frontier for someone my age. It's been a journey figuring out how to connect with people in cyberspace and how to follow all of the unwritten rules and courtesies that people expect.

Today, however, Facebook paid off for me. I read a quote from Mother Teresa that was posted by a friend of the Ranch. It's changing my life--really. It is changing my life. Here it is.

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one."

Wow. I know it's probably not as awe inspiring as I made it out to be, but just for a moment, I want to put that in the context of Triangle Cross Ranch.

I have been struggling to find money to fund the Ranch. I've contacted businesses, churches, foundations, you name it, and have been told that we just aren't inclusive enough. We don't meet the needs of a large population and, apparently, most organizations want to be connected with an agency that serves hundreds and thousands of people.

Enter this quote.

Triangle Cross Ranch currently serves 10 adults with intellectual disabilities. Ten. Period. I've struggled with this and given it over to God many times, but the bottom line is, we serve 10 people at this time. So, yeah, why would someone give us money?

Well, let me tell you. Broad agencies can provide some basic things, but they cannot do what the Ranch does. The Ranch provides deep and focused service to a small number of people. Our influence in the lives of our 10 Ranchers is lifelong and all inclusive. We consider the basic physical needs, emotional well being, safety, social desires, financial concerns, recreational activities, educational opportunities, spiritual growth and well being, and pretty much whatever arises. We are the go between that fights for our Ranchers. We are family to our Ranchers and they are family to us. We may not always like each other, but there is a bond between the Ranchers and between the Ranchers and staff that is not easily found in the world of broad and shallow services.

Triangle Cross Ranch is not big or rich enough to provide for the needs of hundreds, especially when it becomes clear how much we really do for each individual. No, we cannot serve hundreds. But we can serve 10. We can serve 10 with everything we've got, and then we can serve 11. And then we can serve 12.

To be honest, I'd rather walk deeply with 10 than walk broad and shallow with thousands. Only God can truly change the world, but He can use Triangle Cross Ranch to reach the 10 that nobody else can or will.

Do you know Rancher number 11? Send that person to us and we'll walk together.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January Rancher of the Month

Meet Greg**. Greg has been a Rancher for nearly 16 years. He comes to us from the great state of Kansas and a farming family. He served in the army and the navy, until an event brought him to us.
Greg is a kind and well-mannered person. He respects the space and privacy of others. Quiet and unassuming, he never pushes himself to the forefront, but lets others have priority.
If Greg knows you, he will come across the room to greet you, no matter where you are. He is an expert in giving "side hugs" that respect a person's personal space. He loves to talk about his experiences in the military and his life in Kansas prior to coming to the Ranch. Greg is a terrible tease, and can cause a stir when he's in the mood to do so. He enjoys church and social events, although his preference is to spend time in his room with his extensive collection of action movies and metal music. Game nights have been a struggle for Greg, but he's learning to take the winning and losing in stride and just enjoy the time with his friends.
Perhaps the very best thing Greg does is keep a neat and clean bedroom. His room is not just neat--it's immaculate. A place for everything and everything in its place. That's Greg. We suppose that comes from serving in the military for a number of years, but regardless, part of Greg's comfort zone is a clean living space.

Greg has learned to enjoy activities on the Ranch. He has always been cooperative and helpful, but enjoying the time has been a learning process. His favorite activity is sewing hand made felt into bags and boot liners. The work is done by hand and it's taken time for him to learn, but he does beautiful work and is very proud of his finished products. He is in charge of running the picker in our fiber workshop and is very careful to follow the rules when he does so.

Of all the things Greg loves, pizza and Old Chicago and Pepsi are his favorite. He looks forward to his mother's visits so they can go out together and enjoy an "Old Chicago #7."
Greg's father passed away several years ago and since then, he and his mother have formed a closer bond. He depends on his mother's weekly phone call and marks the time until it comes. He is no different than any other Rancher in that respect. They all crave attention and communication with their families and friends outside the Ranch.

Even though Greg needs his mother's attention and looks forward to visits with his family, he is always ready to come "home" to the Ranch. Greg has found his footing and has made a home here.

Just like every Rancher, Greg is absolutely....

....bursting with abilities, capabilities and possibilities!!!!
**Triangle Cross Ranch does not use our Rancher's real name in public posts.