Jeremiah* is a 15 year-old African American child who came to live at Mission Road several months ago. Profoundly intellectually and developmentally disabled (IDD), he had never been taught basic life skills by his alcoholic, sadistic mother. In place of love, he was beaten and burned. In place of care, he was left in bed to wallow in his excrement. He was not regularly fed, and at age 13, weighed just 56 pounds. He arrived in a wheelchair – unable to walk or speak. Unkempt and slumped over, he could not hold himself upright in his wheelchair. He had few clothes, matted and unruly hair, and did not want any one to touch him. As one might expect, he trusted no one.
And then his life slowly began to turn around. His remarkable caregiver, Eddie – a strong, gentle African American man, made Jeremiah his priority. When Jeremiah could not sit still for a barber, Eddie took time after work hours to painstakingly cut his hair. He carefully dressed him in new clothes. Eddie even bought some things for Jeremiah with his own money. Eddie and other caregivers made Jeremiah feel like he was worthy of kindness and a full life.
Jeremiah attended the Harlandale ISD Multi-handicapped Center, where he was taught to use a stander – a devise that supports him in a standing position. He saw himself for the first time in a mirror – standing. He was fascinated. Who was that tall, handsome, clean-cut young man? New hope began to come alive in Jeremiah.
Now Jeremiah is making great strides. His atrophied muscles are gaining strength and he is learning new skills. Eddie says that he can wheel himself in a new wheelchair, provided by Mission Road. He has learned to feed himself with help and drinks from a sippy cup, which he used to throw at his caregivers. He is learning to wash and dress himself, to brush his teeth. He is learning to take responsibility for his actions and make good choices about his behavior.
At Mission Road, Jeremiah has been given hope, a new family and friends. He has gone swimming. He even attended a special summer camp for medically fragile children. He is safe in a nice home and well-fed. He has learned about sharing. He has learned to laugh and play. He now has order to his life. He is in school every day. He has a wake-up time and a bed time. He has chores to do and rules to follow. He is surrounded by people who consistently care about his well being.
Jeremiah is loved. It is slowly sinking in that he is valued. One of his most touching changes is that he now lets others caress him and put their faces next to his. Before, he would throw up his hands to protect himself, but now he trusts. He is growing into a new Jeremiah.
If we only wanted to put a roof over their heads and food in their mouths, we might be able to make do with the government funding we receive. But, at Mission Road, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and therefore, have inherent dignity and worth. When these children come to us, they have no dignity. They are abused, neglected and rejected. One of our most important goals is to help them create a sense of self…to know that they are a person of value, worthy of love.
Among the most integral of all our services is our full-time pastoral care directed by Pastor Jim De Hoog. Pastor Jim has served Jeremiah and all our clients for more than 20 years. How blessed we are to have this very rare and dedicated length of service by one man of God. In fact, his commitment is much more than just full time – it’s all the time! Pastor Jim is often the first person called a moment of crisis or challenge with our clients – and our staff. His ability to bring peace and tranquility to a chaotic and difficult moment is unmatched. This has been especially crucial in caring for Jeremiah for whom Pastor Jim has calmed even at 3:00 in the morning!
He also shares his skills as a teacher. He has developed the curriculum for the Unicorn Centers’ Supported Employment training classes. His students are our adult clients who have distinguished themselves as clients in our Unicorn Centers workshop as eager, ambitious and hard workers – despite their shared challenges of living and working with intellectual developmental disabilities. Pastor Jim teaches them the skills of managing change, working through conflict, working with a boss and displaying appropriate and expected work place behavior. This training is essential to help our clients find, get and – most importantly – keep a job.
We are grateful to the support of First Presbyterian Church allowing Mission Road to employ a full time pastor to serve our more than 835 clients and 350 staff. Our pastoral care program is a critical component to our ability to fully realize our mission to minister to persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities by challenging them to achieve their full potential for independence, productivity and inclusion in the community.
We are grateful to the congregation of First Presbyterian Church for making this possible. It is not an exaggeration – you are making the world a better place! Jeremiah is a shining example of this good work – God’s work.