Program for mentally retarded adults to receive Governor's Innovation Award

September 29, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

A Carroll County program that matches mentally retarded adult volunteers with agencies that need help caught the attention of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Cindy Martin of Change Inc. will go to Annapolis next week to accept one of the Governor's Innovation Awards, specifically the award for community integration. The Ryan Family Foundation, based in Mount Airy, will receive an award for its part in providing the initial $25,000 to start the program.

Ms. Martin manages the community volunteer program for Change, formerly Carroll Haven, which serves developmentally disabled adults.

She spends much of her time reaching out to other organizations that use volunteers, to let them know the 20 clients in her program are able and willing to do more than most people might think.

The key is to break down tasks to simple steps that the clients can handle, Ms. Martin said. For example, area soup kitchens at first declined the volunteers, because they use volunteers who can provide a variety of tasks, including cooking.

"We said we can come in and clean up after the volunteers who cook, so they can go home early," Ms. Martin said.

The clients stuff envelopes for the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.

They visit residents at Westminster Nursing Home and package silverware for their dinner trays.

And their biggest project is going around to businesses and picking up aluminum cans to take to the county recycling bins.

"There are some small steps of things they could be doing," Ms. Martin said. "And small steps lead to big steps on the ladder of empowerment.

"I just love that word. Empowerment. I use it a lot."

Empowerment, she said, means building the self-esteem of the clients by making them see they are appreciated for fulfilling a role in society, such as preserving landfill space by recycling and performing a service that charities or businesses couldn't afford to buy.

"Also, they can be recognized in the businesses where they go," Ms. Martin. "[Workers in the office] will say, 'Oh, there's Cary.' He feels recognized in the community."

Ms. Martin, 31, has been working at Change for 13 years, first as an aide, then an instructor, job coach and now a program manager.

This program, she said, fulfills the vision she has had to integrate the clients into the community to perform necessary services.

Much of the money Change raises goes to the program, she said. The Ryan Foundation provided the $25,000 last year to start it, with an offer to match more money if Change could raise it.

Change was able to raise $18,500 so far to keep the program going.

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