- Dee Gerstenkorn
NDEAM 2020: What is Best for Them
This is the third of four profile posts to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2020. The purpose of NDEAM is to share information on disability employment issues and celebrate the widespread contributions of America's workers with disabilities. This year's theme is "Increasing Access and Opportunity."
Evelyn H. and her late husband Truman were in shock when doctors diagnosed their children, Dale and Sheila, with developmental disabilities in the early 1960s. The family was living in southeast Missouri at the time, and Dale had just started school. Back then, doctors at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis couldn’t even give a name to their diagnosis; it was just “mental retardation”.
“We were in shock,” Evelyn said. “Other parents put children like Dale and Sheila in homes, but not us. We hung in there and did what was best for them.”
For Truman, that meant finding a new job with GM and relocating the young family to St. Louis so they could access services provided by the Special School District.
As graduation approached, Evelyn and her husband hoped Dale and Sheila would be able to find something they liked that would keep their minds occupied. So, after each child left high school, they did like others do—they went to work.
Living in Maryland Heights at the time, the siblings began working at a sheltered workshop in St. Louis County, and they loved it. Eventually, at the suggestion of their pediatrician Dr. Henry Clever, Jr., a community leader and staunch advocate for people with disabilities, the family moved again—this time to St. Charles County to connect with Community Living and Boone Center, Inc.
“Dale and Sheila have enjoyed every place they have ever worked,” Evelyn said, “And still to this day, they love their jobs. They’re always telling me what they worked on or who they saw.”
Living independently for three years now, Sheila and Dale took it hard when BCI closed in the spring due to COVID-19. “Sheila would cry when she realized she had to stay home,” Evelyn said. “I think they were both about ready to go crazy.”
At a time when some call for the end of sheltered workshops, Evelyn thinks just the opposite. “I don’t know what we would have done without them,” she said. “We thanked God our children had a place to go. They need that.”