Jessica W

My final trip to the Stevens Center was rather uneventful in the ultimate scheme of things. Upon my entry into the building, Peanut bombarded me with a hug and proceeded to introduce me to everyone at the center. The other members remembered who I was and, and seem to find this reintroduction rather troublesome. Peanut followed me around for the entirety of my stay at the center, which was rather interesting to have her constantly on my hip. The members in the kitchen were cleaning up from lunch when I arrived, so I helped out with clean up from the dishes and the meals first, and then went to watch some television. I was able to get a few final pool tips from Van, and Peanut and I engaged each other in a few games. I finished off my visit speaking with many of the members who I had previously engaged in conversation along with some I had never previous met, and we discussed up the upcoming summer weather. Brenda informed me that she rather disliked warm weather, while Jack informed me that he thrived in the heat. I told them I was a lifeguard and one girl whose name is escaping me told me that she wished to be a lifeguard at some point. The conversation was very enjoyable and I was sad when I had to end my visit. I think I may actually continue to visit members past this requirement.

Upon the completion of my final visit to the Stevens Center, I can honestly say that my opinions and views have changed. I realized that I did use a lot of stereotyping when considering the mentally disabled. Through my time at the center I became more and more at ease holding conversations with the members and just being comfortable around them. I will admit that I was surprised to see how much we had in common and to see that the members have similar goals to myself and my friends. This experience was a very humbling experience for me.

Peanut actually reminds me a bit of Olympia in Geek Love She seems to have this quality about her that she knows everything that goes on in the Stevens Center. While Olly is ignored for being too normative for the family, Peanut is laughed at and yelled at by the other members for being too nosey, but it ultimately works to her advantage. I am unsure as to whether or not Peanut is aware of this, but I believe that either consciously or unconsciously she wields a lot of power within those confines.

When I entered the Stevens Center, I first thought that the individuals who used the facility were of some sort of mental retardation. When I found out that the members were victims from mental breakdowns from bipolar disorders or depression of the like, I was confused due to my close proximity of many individuals in my life who suffer from those illnesses and who are able to live normal lives. While I had previously heard that these disorders could have a more profound effect on a person’s life, I do not believe that my time spent at the center helped me to understand any of the details on the disabilities any better than a very base knowledge, however. The most profound discovery I had while working with the members was simply the diversity that exists between the members of the Stevens Center, and how a mental breakdown is a nondiscriminatory problem with many different symptoms and side effects.
I think the Stevens Center helps its members in a very profound manner. Many of the individuals who spend time at the Stevens Center simply are in need of a safe stable environment. Others wish to give back to the community and learn useful skills to further them in life. The center also helps in facilitating the skill building activities to further the realization of that goal. The center also provides rehabilitation and therapy sessions for both the social as well as the psychological aspects of each member. The Stevens Group provides the tools to rebuild a person in learning social interactions and decision making and confidence. The center is member run which helps to show organizational skills. Each day the members can help by holding jobs around the center such as cook, janitor, or errand runner. The members can also participate in activities such as cooking class, or crafts to learn skills to give back to the community.
To be honest, I don’t believe that my presence at the center had all that big of an impact on the members. I learned a lot though I had very little to offer in return than my company. Throughout my time at the center, I learned much about the lives of the members both before and after their break. Upon talking I realized how communication really is a useful tool for living in the world. While other things my separate groups of people from one another, communication is universal along some lines of contact. I found it refreshing to know that a lot of the members shared common interests and hobbies with me and my friends. I believe that I learned and took more away from the experience than did the member with which I interacted. I believe that the only benefit of my presence was that the members seemed comforted that people at the college age would take the time to talk with them, and that there was a lot of common ground between us.
From talking with the members, I realized that they face numerous problems when faced with normative society. Members expressed displeasure in even small tasks involving the general public. Trips to Wal mart or the grocery store prove problematic for many of the members of the center. I believe that most of the problems faced by the members have to do more with the way in which society views persons with these types of disabilities and the stereotypical behavioral fears with regards to someone who could be mentally unstable. While many of the members lead relatively the same life as a person in normative society, the one aspect of themselves which makes them different is then shown to be the main point by which others can cast judgment upon them.
My experience at the Stevens Center has helped me to greatly relate to the readings from class. While I only looked at the theoretical readings in Extraordinary Bodies as being rather general and wrong when applied, I realized that each stated strategy for judging disability is present in some shape or form in everyone, myself included. Conversations and interactions with members also illustrated to me how disability representation is very one sided and biased against the idea that persons with disabilities can lead fulfilling lives and that their disability is not the only aspect on which they should be subject to judgment. I can relate some of the readings from class in a more definite way between discussing the agony of clothes shopping for one member whose body is rather large along with her mental disability, to the instance with the member who’s name is always misspelled being reminiscent of Lionel in Motherless Brooklyn as the MinnaMen do not take the time to properly pronounce his name. The Stevens Center provides a good environment and safe place for those who would be otherwise without help. I believe the work of the Stevens Center is of great import in the fight to quash disability stereotyping.

I first arrived at the Stephens Center on Friday and was greeted by the smiling familiar faces of many of the members. I spoke with Brenda, Carol and Jack for awhile about what they had eaten for lunch, ( biscuits and gravy) what the good restaurants were around Carlisle and the surrounding area, Brenda’s new clothing and which types of music were preferred. I also had the opportunity to meet Sam, who inquired about my bracelets and whether or not he could acquire ones similar to mine. Jack decided to walk to Walmart and nicely asked Brenda if he could get her anything since she had sprained a tendon in her leg, making the walk to the store less probable. Stephanie returned from wherever she had been visiting and I spoke with her briefly. Van and I shot a couple games of pool, and then I was able to shoot a game against Peanut. I watched Van and Peanut shoot a game of pool, and I met a new case worker who was giving another volunteer a tour. During yet another game of pool with Peanut, I saw Julia arrive for her orientation meeting with Stephanie.

I feel very very comfortable just walking into the STAR center and talking with the members. Everyone is very friendly and willing to talk. Every time I spend some time to talk to the members, I learn a bit more about each of their individual personalities. I did not feel at all awkward this visit, which was a more personal goal for me. I also find tha t the members share a lot of interests and hobbies with me. This experiene is teaching me a lot about myself as well as about my view of others.

The more I spend time at the Stephens Center, I see that each of the members is not a disabled person but a person with a disability , and that there is much more to each person than just the physical or mental difference which society uses to define the entirety of the group. I am reminded of the way in which Tony likes to put Lionel down in Motherless Brooklyn, as well as the idea of the People First hand out which was given to the class. The idea of this concept was most realized in my discussion with Brenda because she explained to me how she had hurt her leg as well as showing off the new clothing she was wearing.

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