Wednesday, May 12, 2004

APRIL 20, 2004

I've spent this morning working on my notes and I've arranged for an interview on Wednesday afternoon with Dick and Anne Marie Nelson, whose son Bruce plays with the Carolina Panthers. Bruce just got married this past weekend, I believe. I have also arranged an interview for Thursday morning with Andy Joyce, who has a funeral home in town. He's a fellow who left Emmetsburg for work elsewhere, then made the decision to come back.


The narrow profile of the building turned towards the highway belies what happens inside the doors at Horizons Unlimited. This is a "sheltered workshop" for individuals with disabilities. Or, how I'd put it, for the dinged of the world, for the broken-winged angels, for those not able to make their own way safely.

Teresa Murphy met me right at 9:30 a.m., as scheduled, right at the front of the building, and - to mark my visit - she presented me with a couple pens, a band-aid dispenser, and a calendar printed on a sheet of magnetic material. I suppose if I were a journalist with some newspaper's or magazine's code of ethics, instead of being a vagabond poet, I might have to be careful about accepting even pens and calendar. But this is a different kind of news I'm writing. In any case, I have nothing to offer that can be bought. Teresa is an Administrative Assistant at Horizons Unlimited and today her job description included giving me a tour of the place.

Horizons Unlimited is a sheltered workshop for individuals with disabilities. Have you ever stepped into a sheltered workshop? I hadn't. The organization has residential facilities as well as the workshop; two of their houses have eight residents and one holds nine. Mary Kay Ulrich is the Residential Director. Teresa said H-U also oversees "supported employment" for higher functioning consumers. ("Consumers" are what some people call "clients" and what others, I suppose, might call "the people I care for.") Some of the consumers have food prep jobs at Food Pride in Emmetsburg, some are able to clean for Emmetsburg businesses, and for Kathleen's, another residential facility for individuals with disabilities.

That the building at Horizons Unlimited presents a narrow profile to the street, that's a metaphor: here is part of our world we drive past every day without thinking about it too much. And most of us don't go out of our way to get a peek inside, to see what happens here, how it happens, who makes it happen. We'd just as soon not have to pay too much attention to this part of life, I suppose, yet this is work that must be done - the work the staff does, the work the consumers do. I wanted to peel back the walls and look inside. I teased Teresa that she got "the short straw," being the one who had to give me the tour. She said that wasn't the case.

Up front, closest to the street, closest to Highway 4 on the south edge of Emmetsburg, are the administrative offices for Horizons Unlimited. Here was Toni Baker, Management Assistant for Residential Services. There was the office of Marvella Wickman, Office Manager and Safety Coordinator. And Ron Ludwig, the CEO of Horizons Unlimited, he gets an office and a desk, too.

Then Teresa was showing me the Food Services Department, where meals for sixty people are prepared each day, served at noon to staff and consumers. There are six long tables in the dining area near the kitchen; there are more tables and chairs in an adjacent room.

"Consumers usually eat breakfast and supper at home," Teresa said, "and they have lunch here."

Some of the consumers help with meal preparation. In fact six of them were busy working when we stepped into the kitchen.

"Those who are higher functioning do most of the meal preparation, with staff assistance," Teresa said. "Those who are lower-functioning set the tables."

The food is served cafeteria-style, with portions individualized according to each consumer's need - this one may be diabetic, that one may need to gain weight.

In addition to lunch, consumers at H-U take a snack break at 10:15 a.m. and a break for coffee or soda at 2:00 p.m.

Leftover food is labeled as to what it is, when it was served, and when it must be used by. Leftovers get used within three days or get thrown out, Teresa said.

Some consumers do the dishes, scrub the pots and pans. As we talked in the kitchen, a woman worked at the sink with a large pan, cleaning it with a devotion to the task you can't buy, that meticulously. She was going to get every speck.

Horizons Unlimited does a "light catering" business as well. Though perhaps "three hundred buns is not 'light,'" said Helen Mohler, the Food Service Assistant who was in charge of meal preparations while Tara Miller, the Food Service Supervisor, was at a "staffing." The kitchen would be catering for a bowling banquet tomorrow night - lasagna, lettuce salad, garlic bread, and such.

A "staffing" is a meeting that, once a year, reviews the needs of those consumers whose "anniversary date" falls in the month. What are the changing needs of the consumer, what kind of progress has been made, has there been any deterioration, have there been any behavioral issues? April's staffing was taking place while I was getting my tour.

Teresa and I entered the shop. The first room is "pre-vocational," for lower-functioning people. Horizons Unlimited offers a laundry service, and this is where the washing gets done. The people who work in this room do the laundry for Emmetsburg's Suburban Motel, for instance. Some of the washing machines handle "industrial loads" - as much as three queen-size comforters. Some are more like the washing machine in my basement. The laundry service takes in washing from the general public as well as businesses.

Heidi just had to say hello to Teresa as we talked. She wanted to know who I was. As you go through the shop, you'll notice that "Who is that new person in our world" is a constant concern. Being able to place the new or the strange seems to be important. It's also clear as we walk through the plant that a lot of the consumers have to say hello to Teresa. Some want to come up and touch her when they say "hi." You feel the warmth of the relationship. You could not pay people to behave in such a fashion. Perhaps the folks I'm seeing at work here have something to teach us.

To be continued....



& we can
taste it:

that cool
drink/ of water

that cold
drink/ we think

of, heading home:

slowly, with
full racks/

three racks
full & sun

behind us
as we move,


in a shadow,

fast enough
by some logic

to keep up
with it.

the racks
groan: wood/wear

& wood/strain,
old planks

& two by fours

under such weight
as loads

over rough spots

in gravel
& washouts. you can

wonder/ that strain:

that dull distant strain
as your muscles relax

in slow breeze,
as smells

of strong black earth
& dust from the road

mix with hay dust
full of air

mix with
blood & bone

& tendon
deep within.

our eyes have
other dreams

in these

& cold
water in our

does more

than cut the phlegm.


MAY 6, 1998

Last evening as I took garbage out to the curb, I noticed three more tulips open in the bed along the garage. Were they open yesterday in the morning? Did I fail to notice them then? Do I see only what I expect to see, am I blind to everything else? How can I begin to consider myself an observant man, a true "witness" to this life, if such things escape my notice?

It is a foggy, foggy morning. I have noticed that, at least. I can barely discern the outline of a neighbor's garage across the street. Visibility is less than thirty yards.

It is too foggy to see the hawk's tree this morning, much less the hawk in the tree. The sun does a slow burn, seeking attention.

The blindness today is both literal and metaphorical. Except there is no blindness in Ripon. I can see down the length of Watson Street. Now the sun shining.

I have always said that town kids have it easier.


MAY 7, 1998
A slow rain, this morning. A mourning dove sits on the driveway, getting wet. It is the picture of acceptance.

"This Door Is NOT in Use" says a sign on a house in Fairwater. What is that a metaphor for? What is that a meta for?

A grey day in the country. The strobe light atop a school bus gets noticed. Rain on the windshield all the way to Ripon.

There is a skunk on the road, wet and dead.

At the Sina pig farm, a girl waits for the school bus. Her hair is wet. She tosses her head to flip her hair out of her eyes. Her brother waits with her. They do not stand in the shelter at the end of the driveway, but under the dripping trees.

Most of the fields I see have now been worked to a fine, smooth consistency.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?