MR/DD kicks off awareness month

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Small-town camaraderie is possibly one of the top perks of living in Lawrence County. It may not be Mayberry, but when people support one another as wholeheartedly as they do in this local community, it just may begin to resemble that famed little town.

For Paul Mollett, Lawrence County Board of Mental Retardation / Developmental Disabilities superintendent, it is the continuous support the community offers his students that reiterates just how tight-knit the town really is.

And as March rolls around, Mollett and his staff at the board will give area residents multiple opportunities to show their support during the annual MR/DD Awareness Month through activities designed for young and old.

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“It is really important (for the community to come together in celebration of MR/DD awareness),” Mollett said. “One of the things we have to look at is that people are not going to have understanding and acceptance of these kids living with challenges if we don’t have these activities.”

Along with acceptance must come the understanding that individuals living with disabilities, such as those students who attend the Open Door School in Ironton, are “just like you” — the statewide theme for MR/DD Awareness Month 2009.

“It is important to have Chili Fest and basketball games to see folks that deal with challenges are really in all ways just like you,” Mollett said.

To make sure the community has every opportunity to interact with the students, the board of MR/DD has added two brand-new functions to this year’s activity itinerary.

The public is invited to a Soup and Sandwich Night at the Lawrence County Early Childhood Center in South Point and a Science Night at the Open Door School, both to promote MR/DD awareness.

“Most people don’t think about people who are dealing with challenges and disabilities being involved in a science fair,” Mollett said. “The two seem incongruous. But it shows they are just like you.”

The Dr. Seuss Soup and Sandwich Night Celebration will be from 3-7 p.m. Monday.

The Early Childhood Center will be celebrating Dr. Seuss’s Birthday with a variety of fun activities for children and families. Soups and sandwiches will be provided by the parents and staff of the center.

Crafts will be available for children to decorate and take home. Families can watch Dr. Seuss movies and sit in for story time with various readers throughout the evening.

“We are always excited to highlight individual programs within the Lawrence County Board of MR/DD,” said Sue Vanderhoof, Early Childhood Center Director. “Our desire is to create an opportunity, at the Center, to bring MR/DD families and the community together.”

Mollett emphasized the statewide theme, pinpointing the real reason to encourage community involvement and support. And the passion has spread through to his staff.

Lawrence County Board of MR/DD Personnel and Public Relations Director Ashleigh Williams said the festivities are a learning opportunity for anyone who attends.

“I think they will become aware of the abilities of individuals with mental retardation and developmental disabilities being just like us,” she said. “And I think the celebrations themselves will be a lot of fun and will give people the ability to come together.”

Building relationships is on the to-do list, as well, not only among those in the community, but maybe people far away, too.

To reach those out-of-towners, every student at the Open Door School and the Early Childhood Center will release a helium balloon containing their first name and respective school’s address during the two scheduled Balloon Launches.

Wherever that balloon may happen to land, the hope is the receiver will send a letter back to the student.

In previous years, balloons have traveled over 350 miles to Halifax, Va., and 200 miles to Sinks Grove, W.Va.

It is accurate to say these Lawrence County MR/DD students are not only touching the lives of people in their own community who love and support them, but they have reached the hearts of individuals who they may never have the chance to meet.

For more information about MR/DD Awareness Month, call (800) 231-MRDD or (740) 532-7401.