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A Gathering Place

March 10, 2017

The large room is located near the front of our facility. It has sixteen long tables and can comfortably seat sixty people. Mounted on a wall are three computer stations that are used to clock people in and out. On one side of the room there are eight microwaves, and on the other side is a water fountain. Three of the four walls are lined with lockers, but there are no locks because there is trust.

This expansive open area is our break room, and it is the heart of the Meadows. Because our building is over 42,000 square feet, divided into six major sections, it is the one place where everyone comes together at the same time. It is where each day begins and ends.

Work is an important aspect of every person’s life and the individuals we employ are no different. Although they have intellectual and physical challenges, they arrive each day and perform their assigned tasks to the best of their ability. When they are not working, they spend time in this room where they share their job experiences as well as other aspects of their lives. Their interactions are open and sincere. The conversations can be hilarious or quite serious. It is the chance to connect with their peers who have many of the same interests.

What takes place in this room is meaningful. People look forward to their time together, and the happiness and fun that is shared is important to them. It is where they have lunch and take their breaks. It is where people enjoy each other’s company and relax. They listen to music, they play on their phones, they read, they work puzzle books and a variety of card games are always in full swing. This is where birthdays are celebrated and where pizza parties are held.

But it is more than just a place to have fun. Meetings are held in this room with staff, parents and guardians. Facts and information are disseminated here. People gather to discuss issues and to find solutions to problems. It is where possibilities are discussed and plans are developed. It is where presentations are made and awards are handed out. It’s where hopes and dreams are expressed and nurtured. It provides a setting for everyone to share their thoughts and opinions on subjects that have meaning for the people we employ.

Because these men and women have a wide range of intellectual and physical challenges, we work closely with parents and guardians to ensure the safety and well-being of their loved ones. But the employees themselves demonstrate tremendous regard for each other. On a wall in the break room there is a large dry erase board where the names of individuals who are absent each day are listed. Without fail, people gather around that board each morning worried that someone is sick or something is wrong that is not allowing them to be there. Each day they need reassurance that these people will soon be back to work. The people in this place care about each other. They look out for each other. Their concern is real and genuine.

That is because there is also a serious side to what happens in this place. Along with the celebration and enjoyment, there is also the reality of the lives we serve. Despite every precaution, individuals with severe balance issues have fallen. People who have difficulty swallowing have gotten choked while eating. While relaxing in our break room, individuals sometimes have seizures or other health concerns. But it is because of where they are that their immediate needs can be met. They are employed at a facility that has the training and knowledge to assist them when they have a medical issue. Their safety and well-being is the number one priority when they are at work.

Everything that happens in this room, is a reflection of the right of men and women with developmental disabilities to be employed. Every individual that spends time here is important. Their life matters. This room creates a feeling of family. It generates a sense of belonging and togetherness. It allows people to experience acceptance and understanding without judgment. They feel at ease, and they can be themselves. Each worker knows they are appreciated and valued as a person because they are treated with dignity and respect. It’s where friendships are born and sustained. It is where memories are made.

Late in the day, after everyone has gone home, our break room reverts back to a large empty space. The stillness is in stark contrast to the boisterous commotion that takes place during work hours. Each night when the lights are turned off, it is impossible not to think back to some of the moments that were remarkable and to begin looking forward to the next day when the men and women we employ will once again fill the room with their laughter, enthusiasm and joy.