Alexander H

The Stevens Center had members with a myriad of impairments. Some were retarded, some were schizophrenic, some were bipolar, and others had combinations of mental, emotional, and physical problems. My understanding of some of the problems these people faced going in was that retarded people were stupid and fixate on one thing, bipolar people are energetic and show initiative one day and can’t face the day the next, etc. Overall it was limited. The members at the Steven Center do not have the worse cases of their impairments, but are more substantial than people in normal society. My understanding of the disabilities has grown. No two people exhibit the same symptoms or qualities of any of the impairments. But they are still people. They are trying to deal with what they have been dealt. Some of the people with mental problems were fine until their early twenties when they had their first break. They have lived a normal life and now that’s gone. It’s very different.
The benefits of the Stevens Center for these people is immense, especially those that have gone through a break. The Center is trying to help them learn life skills and possibly giving them a chance at an independent life. It gives members a place that they can go and hang out for a while among people that are facing similar challenges. They have control over some aspects of the Center, including where they go on outings and what food they eat, and that is important for people who are dealing with things outside their control. It is a helpful and supportive environment, a safe haven.
I don’t think that I have had a profound impact on any of the members there. That it is to say, I don’t think my presence was life changing for any of them. At most, I hope I have helped them overcome some of their preconceived notions about the normals or the Dickinson kids like they have helped me. I was there to keep them company and interact with them. Different people bring different perspectives and can help break up sameness in a positive way. If I had any impact, I think that was it.
The members face a lot of problems in normal society. They are different. For some, that difference is more noticeable than others. They are labeled as freaks and wackos. One of the members was even spit on by some Dickinson kids driving by while he was walking down the street. The biggest problem is lack of hope. Some of them were normal until their break. It has to be absolutely horrible to look back on what they used to be and what they are now. Employment options are limited for the members. What they are going to do over the course of the day is a large question mark. They face prejudice, stares, comments, and even violence. The overall problem that they face in normal society is not being normal.
The whole experience reinforces some of the things we have talked about in class, especially what we learned from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s Extraordinary Bodies. The use of the abnormal body as an anti-definition of the normal body was particularly highlighted. During all of my visits at the Stevens Center I was thinking about how easily I could have been in the exact same situation as the members there, or in even worse shape. It made me count my blessings and realize how lucky I was, because I definitely did not do this on my own. Also, Garland-Thomson’s writing on the freak show was also illustrated, although scaled down immensely, to me at the Center. I get a small sense of the members as freaks being put on display. We were not the first required service learning group to work there. I wondered, and still wonder, about the members and the long train of normal college kids coming through. It reminds me of the trailer of oddities at the Fabulon in Geek Love. People, just one after the other, coming through as a requirement for a class. Couple that with my experience of self examination, and it is the definition of a freak show that Garland-Thomson gives. The experience made me think on the topic discussed in class a little more in depth and it gave me a chance to see for myself what some of authors were describing in their books. It definitely helped me relate abstract concepts to concrete realities which make more sense to me.

This past week I made my last trip to the Stevens Center. It was a little different being there for the last time. I was the only college kid there and Carol was intent on playing cards. I also spent some time with a member I haven’t really interacted with before. He was watching some movie I didn’t recognize so I just tried to piece together what was going on. He also started to talk about NASCAR. I think he wanted a conversation, which couldn’t happen, but it ended up as just him talking at me about Dale, Jr. I also took the oppurtunity to talk to Stephanie about what the Stevens Center was all about.
The whole experience has been a little awkward. I understand the purpose of the Stevens Center now, and I understand why the people who are members are members. But it was still awkward. Both sides, me and the members, were not sure what to make of each other. Other students from various schools have been there as part of a class or such, so it wasn’t the first time they encountered a college kid. If I were there and had all this kids come in I would be furious. I don’t know how they feel or even if they are fully aware of what’s going on but I know I would be pissed. It’s almost like they are some sort of research tool. They are there to be studied as a part of requirement and to help others have a better understanding of themselves. But that’s me. They might just take it as an oppurtunity to interact with other people. But me, I would not like these outsiders coming into my space just to look at me. I would want to go to the Stevens Center to socialize with others like me and learn some things that will help when I go out on my own.
I definitely get a freakshow vibe from the Stevens Center. The members are there to be looked at and to make others feel better about themselves. I felt going into this (Service Journal I) that a partial function of this whole thing was to make us get a better understanding of ourselves and if we help someone, great, if not, that’s okay too. I don’t think that was intended, but it’s inherent when doing something like this.

I arrived at the Stephens Group around 1:00 pm. One of the members wanted to take a few pictures of me and others that were there. After the photo op Danielle arrived. Peanut wanted to dance and she was able to coax Danielle to dance with her. They were dancing for a good five minutes before Evertt showed up. He brought Terminator 3 for Peanut to enjoy. Lauren came soon after. We college kids and Peanut headed over to the DQ so Peanut could get some ice cream. We pretty much spent the entire time watching the movie.
The events don’t really warrant subjective anaylsis. There are only two subjective things I can offer: watching Danielle dance is hilarious, and Arnold is frickin awesome.
How can I relate this to something we have covered in class. Again, we really only watched the movie and went to DQ. Although the DQ was kind of interesting now that I think about it. The cashier person did react a little interestingly to Peanut when she ordered. It kind of reminds me of Zeod at the mini-mart. She used her little kid tone when she was addressing her. Zeod isn’t the only one who reacts to “disabled” people differently.

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