Passages reviews successful year, honors two for efforts

   Brooklyn Dodgers hats dotted the room with a rogue Yankees jacket or Cubs jersey present—all to welcome baseball great, Carl Erskine, guest speaker and Advocacy Award recipient at this year’s annual Passages meeting. Tom O’Neill, president/CEO of Passages, Inc., opened the meeting at Eagle Glen with a list of the past year’s achievements: a new website, a Dekko Foundation grant, a new Summer Youth Program, cooperation with CCHS in dealing with the “R-word,” hiring a human resources professional and a manager of business development, conducting a successful art program, maintaining nearly 100 percent occupancy in group homes, and the new exploration of services that could be offered to junior and senior high students. While Passages has had to cut 7-10 percent of its programs in a time when cuts are occurring across most organizations, their current financial position, according to Randy Holler, Finance Committee Chair, “is very good.” That’s because they have the reserves from prior revenues which are used to maintain their quality programs. However, the outlook is not going to improve if Passages has to continue relying on previous revenue. Holler explained that the state gives Passages $19 an hour to serve their clients. If one person gave just an extra $10, that would pay for a half-hour of service to a Passages client. Many thanks went to the skilled staff who continues to work diligently with clients, the clients themselves, board members who give of their time and expertise, community donors, and local sponsors: Star Financial, J&J Insurance, and Star Insurance. The Dreamweaver Award was given to Mike Rush, as one who “upholds and maintains the rights of people with disabilities,” says Mark Hisey, board chairperson. Hisey himself was awarded the Leadership Award. Bridget Johnson, secretary of the board, said of Hisey, you “couldn’t find a better leader.” Guest speaker, Erskine spoke with humor and in earnest of the effect Passages, and organizations like them, has on a community. He knows the story well of parents who have a child who is different from most, one who will provoke staring and discomfort from those around them, who will test their own patience and diligence. His son, Jimmy, was born in 1950 at a time before special education, when doctors quietly recommended to parents that they institutionalize a child with Down Syndrome so as not to disrupt the family. Erskine and his wife refused to do the norm. They brought home a child who would teach them to look differently at the world—to be undaunted in the face of challenge, to see brightly of new experiences, to find delight in the world in spite of those who express discontent. Erskine praised Passages for its work in seeing folks with disabilities differently from the norm and for teaching the community to see differently, too. Erskine received a standing ovation when his speech was done. After the meeting, he signed autographs for all who requested them—down to the very last Dodgers hat.