March is MR/DD Awareness Month

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

You need only see the smile on Stacy Crager's face when she talks about

them to realize how important activities like those offered for Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month truly are.

The 26-year-old South Point resident has worked at Tri-State Industries, Inc. since July 1999 and said she would not trade her job for the world.

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"I really like the people I work with," she said. "I have lots of friends. It is a good place to work."

Despite Stacy's outgoing personality and love for life, many people across the county do not understand the nature of MR/DD and how these people fit into the world, said Paul B. Mollett, superintendent of the Lawrence County Board of MR/DD .

March is MR/DD Awareness Month, and the board will host several events to show the public that these people have strengths and can be a valuable part of the community, he said. The theme for this year's event is "We Can Make Choices."

If nothing else, Mollett said he hopes the public takes away an understanding that "those with disabilities are people first and can make choices for themselves."

"These people have a tremendous amount of needs, but they also have just as much to offer."

People with MR/DD deserve to be viewed on equal terms, Mollet said.

"We are all humans and we share life," he said. "Whether we are able bodies, weak or strong, black or white, the great equalizer is our humanity. We all share that life force and are deserving of a place in the community."

Mollett said this year's events such as the balloon launch, a dance, movie time, community basketball games and the chili fest will allow these people to have the same experiences and opportunities everyone else takes for granted.

Throughout March, non-perishable food items will be collected at all the events and will be given to the First United Methodist Church Food Pantry

"Our food drive shows that people with MR/DD want to give back to the community and be a part of the society they live in," Mollett said.

Since 1982, Tri-State Industries, Inc.

has provided job training and placement, life skill training and other services for adults served by the Lawrence County Board of MR/DD.

TSI is a non-profit business that works with the MR/DD Board. It currently serves about 170 people.

To do her part, Stacy Crager puts labels on Styrofoam, works with wood, vinyl and other materials for companies such as Dow Chemicals.

"These jobs have value," Jesse Roberts, workshop director, said. "This is not just busy work. Companies need these services."

Her mother Nancy said Stacy truly loves everything about TSI.

"She is the only person I ever knew that hopes bad weather does not cancel work," Nancy Crager said. "She never wants to be sick because she always wants to come to work."

When asked what she spends the money she earns on, Stacy smiles before answering.

"I save it," she says with a laugh, before fessing up. "OK, I like to shop at Wal-Mart."

Math books, pencil and paper and the latest country CDs by her favorite artists such as Travis Tritt and Alabama are just some of the things she loves to buy.

Stacy said she is really excited about the basketball game later this month because she is a cheerleader and loves to practice.

"You should hear them. They do a great job," Nancy said. "For two days afterwards, Stacy cannot talk."

Nancy said events like these offered in March are absolutely crucial to helping the public understand.

"I think MR/DD Awareness Month is very important because a lot of people do not accept that they are just like you and I," she said. "They want to have friends, work, do the things we do and make a difference."

"I would not trade (Stacy) for 100 'normal' children," Nancy said. "I have two daughters and Stacy was the easiest to raise."

To assist parents right from the start, the Lawrence County Early Childhood Center in South Point currently provides care for 160 children from birth to five years old.

The next step is to attend the Open Door School in Ironton. Open Door educates 70 students from ages 6 to 22 in basic life and community skills.

Jeff Saunders, principal at the Open Door School for the past six years, has seen the community involvement increase over recent years, but said

events like MR/DD Awareness Month are truly invaluable,

"It is extremely important to all of us involved with the MR/DD program because so much of the community has no idea what MR/DD is and what we offer," he said. "There may be people in the county that need our services.

"The kids get real excited when they get to do any activity. Our kids love it here. Our kids get upset if they have to stay at home. It is really a different atmosphere than in the public schools."

Saunders said the students are getting excited about the activities and he hopes the public comes and supports them.

"I hope the public takes away that our students can be an important part of the community," he said. "Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma that is based on rumors. I think if people come out, see the activities and meet the students they will change their minds."