Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 5, 2013

Working toward a brighter future

Local individuals with disabilities make mark on community

Brent Brown
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — On any given afternoon, Brad Johnston can be found pushing a cart full of groceries to a MainStreet Market customer’s car.

He’s been doing that, among several other duties, from bagging purchased items to removing the store’s trash, for more than 19 years. Customers may well hear Brad say hello to them or turn to talk amongst his many co-workers and friends. They might also see him dash off in the direction of his next task, ready to do whatever may be asked of him.

But one thing no one will ever hear from Brad Johnston is a complaint.

“I always look forward to going out there,” said Brad of his multi-faceted job.

An accomplished Special Olympics athlete — with a trophy case stocked full as proof of it — Brad has made a career out of customer service in the Tree City.

But his story is one seen again and again throughout the Decatur County community, a place where many individuals with intellectual and/or physical disabilities have come to thrive.

The month of March celebrated individuals with disabilities across the country via its designation as National Disabilities Awareness Month. But one needn’t look far to see the impact of these community members. In fact, the imprint of several hard-working people born with physical or cognitive challenges is as plain to see as Greensburg’s famous courthouse tree.

And there’s no better place to start than some of the community’s schools, which form the proverbial roots of the community.

Carey Crites has been employed in the North Decatur Elementary School cafeteria for a decade and a half. She handles her duties with perpetual zeal, though it’s Carey’s customers in whom she finds the most delight.

Carey lists meeting the students of NDES as one of her favorite parts of her job, with the time spent with her friends and co-workers coming in a close second. When she’s not on the clock, Carey also takes time to volunteer in the NDES library, putting books away.

Soft-spoken and a bit shy, Mike Greer performs many of the same duties as Carey Crites. Mike has worked in the cafeteria of Greensburg Junior High School for about three years now, and he too speaks highly of the young people with whom he interacts on a daily basis. “They’re very nice students,” Mike said.

It’s difficult for Mike to pinpoint exactly what he likes most about his job; he enjoys time spent with his fellow employees and he even took time to compliment his boss. “There are just so many things,” Mike said when asked his favorite part of going to work each day. When he’s away from his paid position, Mike enjoys volunteering at the Greensburg Community Bread of Life, the local charitable food pantry.

Brian Wolter, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome soon after his birth 33 years ago, has found work in a place that suits him to a T: Greensburg Community High School.

Working in the lunchroom, Brian is a GCHS graduate who has no qualms about displaying his Pirate pride.

In an interview conducted prior to the GCHS boys basketball team’s Class 3A IHSAA championship victory, Brian extolled his love of basketball in any form and mentioned his enjoyment of his volunteer work with Meals on Wheels. Brian keeps busy with church activities and a constant stream of athletic commitments, but still finds time to excel at his job in the school wherein he was once a student.

“I like to see everybody I work with and the people who go to school there,” Brian said.

Beyond the community’s school systems, people with disabilities have found viable employment at many other locations throughout Decatur County.

Lena Hunter, for instance, has worked in the Greensburg Walmart Super Center’s clothing department for about 20 years. Despite the many tasks she’s required to accomplish there, Lena remains committed to helping out fellow clients of Decatur Developmental Industries, Inc., the local subsidiary of Developmental Services, Inc. (DSI). Locally, Decatur Industries employees individuals with disabilities in an on-site workshop, but there are many of those clients, such as Lena, whose work extends into the community.

Sisters Jennifer and Jessica Johannigman are well versed in helping out the community. Jessica has worked at Stone’s in Millhousen for five years. There, she is employed in the kitchen and does a little bit of everything during a typical work day. Outside of work, Jessica enjoys playing volleyball in Special Olympics events.

Jennifer Johannigman has worked at McDonald’s for 12 years, spending time at the cash register, assisting customers at the drive-thru and even putting together sandwiches and other items from the restaurant’s extensive menu. Jennifer can’t claim a single aspect of her job as her favorite, though she specifically mentioned how much she enjoys working with so many different people.

Rachael Padgett is likely familiar to McDonald’s customers as well, having held a job there for 10 years. Rachael, along with fellow DSI clients Brian Bokelman, Sheryl Stoneking and Tommy Atkins were not present during a Daily News interview at Decatur Developmental Industries late last month, though their accomplishments among the local workforce are every bit as indelible as those of any others.

Tommy has performed a variety of tasks at Greensburg’s Ponderosa for more than two years. Last year, Tommy was honored as President of DSI’s local Self-Advocacy Group. Sheryl has worked at Frisch’s for four years, while Brian Bokelman has been a part of Goodwill’s team of associates for three years.

Brian has a friend at Goodwill, Tom Malone, who works approximately five hours per day, three days a week.

“I usually don’t mind how many hours they give me,” Brian told the Daily News. “As long as I’m working, that’s all that counts.”

Tom, a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs, has spent nearly eight years as an employee of Goodwill, helping organize clothing and other items donated to the store. In his downtime, Tom is an avid bowler who is unlikely to settle for a score of under 100, according to his family.

Amy Owens’ smile never left her face as she described her work at Chili’s. A veteran of more than six years in food preparation, Amy stated she looks forward to each day of work due to the friendships she’s established with her co-workers. Amy also enjoys volunteering at Morning Breeze, helping residents there play Bingo.

Jeanie Lynne Roberts, another DSI client and active Special Olympics participant, also assists with Morning Breeze’s Bingo games. Jeanie recently began work at Crystal Clear Window Cleaning, and has helped with cleaning projects at City Hall and the Hair Factory, among others.

Ann Smith has worked at Arby’s since her graduation from Greensburg Community High School in 2000. Ann enjoys her work in the dining room and especially likes lending a hand to her co-workers, whom she considers her friends. Ann volunteers at DSI and also enjoys bowling, painting and creating latch work.

Ann’s close friend, Morgan Hooten, is every bit as excited to talk about her work at Mancino’s as she is to actually engage in it. Having been a fixture of the popular local pizza place for five years, Morgan has handled dishes, trash, cash register duties and customer service. Morgan’s enthusiasm for her job is equaled only by her love of her volunteer work at Red Brick Preschool. Morgan stated she enjoys reading to and interacting with the children there.

Back at MainStreet Market, Brad Johnston’s co-worker, Cindy Roberts, shares many of her duties with him. Cindy has worked at the grocery store for 12 years and often busies herself with customer carryouts, cleaning restrooms or returning shopping carts to the store. No matter the task, it’s “all in a day’s work” for Cindy, who boasts just as much enthusiasm as Brad and her other friends when they speak of their jobs within the Decatur County community.

And though Brad and Cindy work for an employer that takes its name from a central locale in all communities, individuals with disabilities who have joined the work force have done so in places located essentially everywhere in Decatur County and far beyond.

Decatur Developmental Industries Program Director Jenny Maddux told the Daily News she hopes local businesses who have taken the time to employ and work with individuals with disabilities will also get their due. Those efforts, as indicated by the overwhelmingly prevalent joy exhibited by working individuals with special needs in Decatur County, appear to be paying off.

Many of the men and women who celebrated Disabilities Awareness Month in March did so while contributing valuable work in a wide array of industries.

And their toil appears to be its own reward as those workers strive for brighter futures — both for themselves and for the community they call home.

Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056