Starring…my favorite kids with special needs

Video shoot, June 2012

Video shoot, June 2012

This video will make your Monday!

Two summers ago, we were approached by some folks in Hollywood who were interested in making a feature film based on JSAP. The idea is still floating around out there, somewhere in that strange land called LA. Who knows…it could still happen someday. Even if it never materializes, those filmmakers left us with something priceless – a beautiful video intended to give a glimpse into the personalities of some of our students and to show how endearing, funny and fabulous they are. So, let’s go back two years, when Darby was still here, when Connor was a little boy, when Melissa had long hair and when it was Katie’s 18th birthday….


You Too Important

Katie and Carolyn have worked at Merrimack Hall for two years. When a business hires a person with special needs, they gain so much more than just an employee. Here are some things that business owners might not know about hiring people with special needs:

  • most people with special needs would be happy with a part-time job, not full-time
  • in some cases, people with special needs can be paid less than minimum wage; in all cases, they would much prefer to have some income rather than no income
  • job coaches are available to help train and supervise people with special needs, if your business is not able to do this
  • organizations like The Phoenix Corporation can come into your business and identify ways you could create meaningful jobs for people with special needs
Katie and Emma

Katie and Emma

There are many intangible benefits to having people with special needs on your payroll, such as the diversity and unique perspective they can bring to the workplace. Here are two examples of how Katie has had a positive impact on me at work:

Katie wears an insulin pump and each day after lunch, she pricks her finger, calls her mother to report the number on her pump and adjusts her insulin dosage. Without fail, once she receives her insulin, Katie goes into the lobby to sing a song. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the lobby…it probably wouldn’t matter if the building was on fire. Nothing interrupts what we’ve affectionately come to call Katie’s “Sugar Song.” For about 20 minutes, she sings at the top of her lungs about anything and everything, but most often, the Sugar Song is about herself. Her songs have no set rhythm or rhyme and typical lyrics might be:

I so beautiful.
I so happy.
I love my cat.
I a princess.
I wear pink.
I the best worker.

Katie and Rachel

Katie and Rachel

I decided to try a Sugar Song for myself a few weeks ago. I was tense, worried about a grant deadline and acting a bit testy. So, I grabbed a Snickers bar from the concession stand and after I ate it, I sang – at the top of my lungs. I don’t know if anyone heard me or not but, like Katie, I decided I didn’t care. My lyrics, sung to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine” were:

I am amazing.
I’m so amazing.
I’ll get this grant cause I’m the best.
My mission is the
Most compelling
My grant will blow away the rest.

And it worked! I felt less anxious when I finished my Sugar Song. And low and behold, last week I got an email notifying me that I had indeed received the grant – a $10,000 grant to establish a leadership development program for our volunteers. Sugar Songs are going to become a regular part of my day from now on.

The second example happened a few months ago. Katie was eating lunch by herself in our kitchen and I was on a frantic search for something – don’t remember what. I darted past the kitchen table about 5 times, going into people’s offices, out the back door and in again, up to the lobby and back. Each time I passed the table, Katie offered me a different greeting.

Hi, Boss Lady!
You look cute, Debra!

I responded with appropriate comments but never slowed down until finally, Katie stood up from her chair and said:

Hey! Slow down! 

Of course, I obeyed. Then Katie said:

Why you hurry so much? You think you too important.

Well, that put me in my place. Why was I hurrying? Katie never hurries or rushes and neither should I. When I’m on some self-important mission, I’m not doing anything but stressing myself out – and probably stressing out those around me at the same time. Katie was right…I’m just not that important and neither is anything I have to do that requires me to hurry so much that I can’t stop and engage in a polite conversation with my teammate. Thanks to Katie, I’m going to slow down…and sing a song every now and then.

Katie and Me

Katie and Me

If you’re interested in hiring someone with special needs, I’d love to hear from you! I would be happy to connect you with resources to facilitate the hiring of someone with special needs. I can also recommend any of the dozens of adults in my program who would be thrilled to have a part-time job and who would bring enormous benefit to your business.

Advice for My Love Life

Katie (and her tiara) at work yesterday at Merrimack Hall.

Katie (and her tiara) at work yesterday at Merrimack Hall.

The people in our Johnny Stallings Arts Program have shared insights with me on lots of topics that have impacted my views on most everything in life but last week, Katie told me a story that offered an example of how I could improve my love life. Katie has a long-term, on-again-off-again, innocent, sweet and age-appropriate relationship with Noah but when I listened to the story of what happened at a recent dance, I realized that I could take her situation, grow it up to an adult level and probably add some spice back into my romantic life with Alan (If my adult children are reading this, they probably just threw up).

Katie told me the story while she was at work, wearing a tiara, as she normally does. You see, Katie is a princess. I’ve heard her introduce herself to people like this: “Hi! I Katie. I graduate from high school. I work at Merrimack Hall. I a songwriter. And I a princess.” Spend enough time around Katie and you’ll begin to realize that being a princess is a state of mind. Once, she told me that I was a princess, too.

“Don’t you think I’m a little old to be a princess?” I asked. “How about I’m the queen.”

“Debra,” she said, “You never too old to be a princess.”

Noah and Katie before prom

Noah and Katie before prom

So, her story was that she and Noah were on a date at a dance and things started going south when Katie told Noah she wanted to slow dance and he told her he didn’t.

“Why he not slow dance?” she asked me. “I look beautiful. I look perfect. I work so hard…my hair, my purse, my red dress. I a princess.”

If I followed the story correctly, Noah refused to slow dance because he only wanted to hip-hop dance, which I interpreted to mean that he didn’t want to do the mushy stuff but instead wanted to show off his killer moves. Katie, all dolled up and ready for romance, wanted to slow dance and to be treated like the princess she is.

“What did you do when he told you ‘No’?” I asked.

“I say ‘No slow dance, no kiss. I really want to kiss Noah…so I mad.”

“What happened next?” I was dying to know how this turned out because I’ve seen Katie when she’s mad and my advice…avoid making a princess mad at all costs!

“He say he want to kiss too. I say ‘Then slow dance.’ We slow dance. Then we kiss. On the cheek. Then I happy.”

That’s where the light bulb went off for me. They both wanted to kiss … on the cheek … but Noah’s way of getting there was to strut his stuff while Katie’s way was to slow dance and be treated like a princess. I had to admit that even though I think I’m pretty capable, even though I’m independent and in charge and don’t need a knight in shining armor to rescue me, I would like to be treated like a princess, every now and then.

Me and Katie after the holiday show.

Me and Katie after the holiday show.

If I had known Katie back in the ‘80’s, I wouldn’t have had to read, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From … some other planet that I can’t remember, because she nailed the difference in the sexes with one simple story. Men and women want the same thing…the kiss…but we have very different ways of getting it. Katie was baffled that all of her hard work and preparation for the dance – the hair, the nails, the red dress – didn’t get her the result she wanted. And Noah was probably confused when Katie wasn’t won over by his strutting around. Of course, the real moral to the story is that the only way the disagreement was resolved was that Noah had to do things Katie’s way. “You’re right” – the two most important words a man can ever say to a woman. Noah conceded to Katie’s wishes and everyone lived happily ever after…for now.

I’m going to try to adopt Katie’s mindset because she’s right … a girl is never too old to be a princess.The next time I want to be romantic with Alan, I’m going to get all dolled up and ask him to slow dance with me. I’m going to let him strut around and show off but then I’m going to ask him to tell me I’m a princess. If things go according to plan, we will both end up happy in the end (my children just threw up again).