My name is Kayla (Simmons) Ritchie.  I have been with ADEC going on four years. I have made my home at Middlebury Day program as the Team Leader. Through the years, I have become part of Gaining Grounds Coffee Shops, ADEC Art Committee, and an advocate for the Power for Independence Goshen Chapter. My job here at ADEC is by far the most cherished job I have had the privilege of obtaining.

Being an advocate for ADEC in general is what I take pride in. I love to share with the community the clients’ art and their abilities, sometimes taking them to volunteer at events such as the county fair or art shows across Elkhart Country. It gets them into the community and breaks down misconceptions that they are incapable. The coffee shop has served as a great advocate in itself. Our customers love coming to grab a cup of coffee and observe the many things our clients are doing.

I also love the occasions when I get to take clients to Indy for Self-Advocates of Indiana meetings and watching them take pride in themselves and their mission, with other advocates from across the state.

My favorite memory thus far is from last year. Becky Curtis, Aleigha Miller and I took clients to Indianapolis to celebrate the Self-Advocates of Indiana Annual Picnic.  Much to our surprise the Governor had come to the picnic to sign a bill to eliminate the “R” word out of state documents and replace it with “intellectually challenged.” The clients took such pride watching this process happen and it was all because of their advocacy efforts and determination! It was a great day.

I have grown particularly fond of the PFI officers. I have had the opportunity to watch them grow and get out of their comfort zone. For some, talking in front of large groups is extremely intimidating. Two clients come to mind – Nate and Shannon.  Shannon has been vice president of the PFI group for many years. She is very good at what she does but is very shy and doesn’t speak out often.

Our reigning president and dear friend John had suddenly become ill. It was a very hard time for our Group. John was a very active member in our community and within our group. John also served as a board member for The Self-Advocates of Indiana. When our group received word that John would be on medical leave for several months, Nate voiced that he wanted to get involved. The officers voted and decided to have Nate fill in for John until his return. Nate took on a very large role, he was filling in for President in the PFI chapter, but also as a board member for SAI. He hadn’t previously been a part of these groups but was very eager to have a voice.  After several months, John passed away. The spot had to be filled permanently. Both of John’s positions needed to be filled, and Nate was completely prepared to take these positions.

Nate had already been voted by the SAI committee to reign as a board member with them. While discussing this matter in the PFI officers meeting, Shannon spoke up for herself and stated that she wanted the spot as President for the PFI Chapter! This was an awesome moment – she completely came out of her box and advocated for herself!! The group voted and Shannon got the spot with Nate taking vice president and board member for the Self Advocates of Indiana. This was a very heartwarming moment for me. I had watched Shannon grow, speak up for herself and advocate!

he was so pleased to be named President. Since then she has spoken out so much more throughout day program and extra events she attends.  Nate has also come a long way since joining in both groups, he currently is very excited to be starting a new job at McDonald’s that he has worked so hard to get. The best part of this job is watching them achieve their goals and getting to celebrate that with them.

The clients we serve are like no other. They are so happy to have you in their presence and sad when you are gone. They genuinely care about your wellbeing.  Daily the clients ask how my kids are or how my day is going and so pleased to hear all is well. They have changed my life and the way I face difficulties, because if they can do it with a smile on their face so can I. They are my Work Family!

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series on staff perspectives across ADEC.

Photo by Rod Tackett / Communications Specialist