There are many reasons why the extended St. Louis Center family continues to draw in so many supporters. Click on the stories and short video testimonials below to learn about a few of the residents, families, staff, and others who are a part of our community.
A native of Boston, Don moved to Ann Arbor 36 years ago with his wife Toni, and their three daughters. He was a Senior Executive at Comshare and worked in the computer industry for over forty years. In 1997 he was a founding Partner of Arbor Partners LLC, one of the early Michigan Venture Capital firms. Don served on the boards of several Michigan start-up companies, is a former board member of the New Enterprise Forum, is an advisor to the University of Michigan’s Wolverine Venture Fund and served on the Board of the Michigan Venture Capital Association.
Don learned about the Saint Louis Center 25 years ago when a close friend invited him to participate in several fund raising events. During those years, Don saw firsthand the wonderful care and attention each resident received. In 2010 Don joined the SLC Legacy Campaign Committee to help raise the $10 million dollars required to update the existing facilities and build new housing to meet the special needs of the residents with I/DD who are aging. According to Don, it was the right time to launch the Legacy Campaign. The SLC was 50 years old and the buildings needed updating and refurbishing. The SLC residents were also aging and required a higher level of care and a new home designed for their unique needs.
In many cases, the I/DD community is now outliving their parents. Caregivers and families are concerned about who will take care of their loved ones when they are no longer able to do so. Don believes the SLC, with over 50 years of experience serving people with I/DD, is the perfect location and environment to build a Village that will meet the expanding needs of this special community. In Don’s view, the SLC is working to create a future in which every resident with intellectual and developmental disabilities is provided a continuum of life-long care in an integrated residential community that is safe, comfortable, and supportive.
Don is pleased with the Legacy Committee’s progress. By the close of 2014, nearly $4M had been raised and several important capital projects completed. A new welcome center was built, the main playground/park was redesigned, and Fr. Guanella Hall was totally remodeled to meet the specific needs of the residents who are aging. In addition, new programs such as fitness, gardening, and music therapy have been launched with new ones being developed. Don knows there is more work to be done, but he is excited about the positive reception the Committee is getting as more people throughout southeast Michigan learn about the Legacy Campaign.
Rick Visel is St. Louis Center’s Program Director. According to Rick, his areas of focus are promoting St. Louis Center’s mission, employee and resident development and coordinating resident activities. But don’t let this short and modest list fool you; Rick keeps schedules on point and is tremendously respected by all. His skills were honed during his career with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.
“After retiring, I felt that I owed the citizens of the community my continued services. The County had invested a lot of time and money mentoring me to hold several command positions within the Sheriff’s Department. I felt that those skills should not go unused,” said Rick.
Compassion and willingness to learn are skills and traits he looks for when hiring employees to care for the residents, because their work goes beyond physical care. Rick aims to have a trusting relationship with staff; otherwise, they may not ask for assistance or vocalize concerns related to training.
Rick’s commitment to promoting an environment of trust extends to his work with the residents. In order for the home in which they live to feel family-like, some of the responsibility begins with them. The resident must be trustworthy and respect their home and all of those who reside in it.
“They must be willing to care for one another, live in a family environment by doing chores and sharing the TV and other resources. Residents need to be held accountable,” said Rick. “Each resident needs realistic and attainable goals. If the goal is too challenging or unrealistic, residents may become discouraged...”
This approach seems to be successful because residents respond to Rick’s direction and seek it.
“We are a family. I try to treat each of the residents equally and not show any favoritism. Each resident is fun to be around, so I enjoy interacting with each of them,” he added.
When roaming the halls of St. Louis Center it is not uncommon for a staff member to be asked by a resident, “Where’s Rick?” He has become a point person for many, their rock. He keeps things in order, is fun, doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and most importantly makes the residents feel safe and important.
“Since taking the position with the St. Louis Center in 2009, I have enjoyed every minute of my work. The residents are so friendly and respectful that at times it is hard to know who is helping who.”
Rick knows that he has done his job when a resident leaves St. Louis Center but remains in contact with him. “One of the residents who could not write sent me three pages of squiggly lines on a piece of paper. I sent him a Christmas card with a note inside. I got a letter back from his caregiver one week later thanking me for writing back,” said Rick. “He mailed out several letters to his friends and I was the only one who wrote back. She told me how happy he was to have gotten a letter in return.”
He always goes the extra mile, whether by giving compliments or motivating others. If you see him, maybe send a compliment his way!
Dr. Judy Greenbaum has been an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for nearly half a century, an author and lecturer with a PhD in Special Education, and a St. Louis Center parent. In 2010, Judy joined St. Louis Center’s Legacy Campaign Committee.
Judy was born and raised in Upper Manhattan. She earned her Bachelors degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and was married one week after graduation. Four children followed; the youngest, Susie, was born with intellectual disabilities.
Susie’s birth launched Judy on a new path. She could not find a preschool that would take her and she became Susie’s advocate. Her struggle led her to meet individuals who were working to put special education on the ballot in Michigan.
She recounted the story, “We needed 100,000 signatures and we got them. The Michigan Mandatory Special Education Act passed in 1971 and became law in 1973. The federal law passed in 1973 and went into affect in 1975, but was not as comprehensive as Michigan’s.” The law made it mandatory for schools to educate children with developmental disabilities between ages birth to 26 in order to help them reach their “maximum potential.”
So from 1972 to 1973, advocates worked on the development of the law’s rules and regulations. “I got to know the law inside and out and that’s how I became an advocate,” she said. In fact, Judy was the advocate for several major cases.
Sadly, in 1973 her husband, who was also very active in the struggle for mandatory special education, passed. She recalls that period and raising her children alone. “A dark cloud settled over the family, but the children’s presence helped a great deal.”
Judy’s picture appeared on the front cover of the Ann Arbor News in an article entitled, “What Price Education?” She explained, “The price tag to set up a classroom for one child with autism in the early 1970s was around $28,000. But within one week of the publication of the article, there were six children with special needs enrolled in that class. Something big was happening.”
At 40, Judy began her doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, studying under Professor Percy Bates, also a member of the Legacy Campaign Committee. The PhD would be, in her words, her “union card” to a good job.
Dr. Greenbaum has written five books on topics related to special education and intellectual and developmental disabilities, the latest of which, Life Planning for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was published in 2007. She has also published professional articles, given workshops and lectures on the topic, and founded advocacy and training organizations.
Flash forward to 2015. Why did she join the Legacy Committee? “To give back.” She explained, “I am really grateful to St. Louis Center for taking care of my daughter. I am impressed by how personalized the care is and how supportive the Center is. The fact that this is a religious organization means a lot to me. I feel that the people who work there are doing God’s work, that they all have a moral center.”
She continued, “There are so many people who need to know that there are places for their loved ones. They are living with anxiety about the future. We can show them what the future looks like for their son or daughter. We can tell them that everything will be okay.”
St. Louis Center has achieved accreditation from CARF, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. This accreditation means we have met the highest standards of quality in our community housing services to support our residents.
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