Thu 21 Apr 2005
The Stephens Center provided me with a new perspective on how a center for people with disabilities is run. The center tries to help teach many people with different disabilities certain basic skills so that they could function in life. We were able to help at the center and to get to know many of the members. The members (as the people who come to the center are called) come there because of the problems that they had with the people who considered themselves part of the norm of society in Carlisle. The center allowed me to better understand such novels as Motherless Brooklyn and Geek Love.
The people at the center had many different types of impairments. The person in charge of the center was named Stephanie. She told us several of the impairments ailing the members, but that there were others as well. The thing I was worried about upon first arriving was making sure that one of the members would not attack me. Some of the members were bi-polar. When you are bi-polar you have extreme mood swings for no apparent reason. While I was there, all of the members were very calm and nice so this was not a problem. There were also other members who had extreme cases of schizophrenia. One of the members would constantly twitch and shake back and forth which is a symptom of schizophrenia. Some of the members seemed to be heavily medicated. The members who were heavily medicated had an almost glazed over look to them.
The Stephens Center was a key part of life for people with disabilities in the Carlisle area. The center was a safe haven for these members. Outside of the center, people treated the members like freaks and passed judgments on them. The center allows for the members to be themselves in an environment where they were not being judged. The center taught the members basic skills that they needed in order to hold a job. When I first arrived, Stephanie asked us to teach the members how to broom, mop and clean up. She also told us that the center was a place for the members to come but that Stephanie’s main goal was to try to help them be able to go out and function on their own. The most important thing the center did was connect the people with disabilities with the rest of the people considered the “norm” of society.
My impact was not one of monumental proportions. I tried to talk to the members when they seemed to want to talk and listened when they wanted me to listen. The amount that the members wanted to talk was actually quite limited as I was more of a blockbuster rental guy than anything. A member named peanut would ask me to bring in new and scary movies each week to watch because they had gone through all the movies there. We would all sit down and watch the movies and Peanut would say things and then apologize for the rest of the movie. I had an impact of helping to provide another outlet for the members to relax and enjoy themselves.
The members of the Stephens Center faced many problems in the outside world. I heard many stories from Stephanie about how people were mistreating the members. For example, the store up the row from the center would raise the prices for goods that the members would come in and normally buy. The owners of the store thought that because the members were from the center these members would not be able to tell that the owner was raising the price. Also, the owner knew that if it came down to the word of the store owner versus that of the member of the center, the people of society would take his word. People, such as Dickinson students, would scream obscenities and laugh at the members when they were sitting in the square in downtown. There was also an instance several years ago when a Dickinson student leaned out of his car and spit in the direction of one of the members. These people are not doing anything but being themselves but society as a whole is not able to look past this and judges them for it.
We can compare the Stephens Center to both the novel Motherless Brooklyn and Geek Love. The members were constantly being treated like Lionel was in Motherless Brooklyn. Lionel had tourettes which caused him to seem different and people assumed that he was mentally and physically inferior when in actuality he was above average in both. The people of Carlisle passed judgment on the members of the Stephens Center. Like the store owner, people felt that they could take advantage of the members. The members find it very difficult to be accepted. Lionel faced the same obstacles of being denied acceptance in the book. The center is also like Geek Love as the members are basically off in their own separate world in the center. In the center (like in the novel), being off of the norm is the norm.
The Stephens Center is essential for the members of Carlisle. They need the connection to other people as well as a place to build on the skills that will help them to hold a job and to remain financially independent. Hopefully, the people of Carlisle will try to learn about the members of the center as the Stephens Center continues to grow.