Few people think about a living will when they think about their basic rights, but Joe Lehman does.
Joe is an individual ADEC serves at one of its 21 locations in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties. When Tobi Weirich, the director of protective services and guardianship at ADEC, was having group discussions at each of ADEC’s five day service locations, Joe surprised her with his answer.
“You don’t hear the clients say that very often,” Tobi says. “And I would say most of them don’t know they do have that right. That was very cool that he said that.”
ADEC President and CEO Donna Belusar asked Tobi to create a booklet of rights personalized to ADEC, so Tobi went directly to the source.
“I wanted to really know what was most important to them [the individuals ADEC serves],” she says. “I decided to go to the day programs to have group discussions on ‘what are the most important rights’ to them. And to make sure they even knew what their rights were.”
Tobi spent time at each of ADEC’s day services to make a unique booklet that accurately represented the rights that individuals at ADEC value most.
“In the process of making this book, when I did the group discussions and found out that a lot of them didn’t understand what their rights were, that made this booklet even more important: to provide them a different way to understand what their rights are,” Tobi says. “It’s a reminder, it’s a way to understand it [individual rights], and it’s in a different format — it has pictures and words, people can read it to them, they can read it, they can write notes, they can draw, they can do whatever in it to help them understand what their rights are. It’s a daily reminder for them.”
Tobi found that many of the rights that individuals at ADEC thought were most important to them were ones that were already being reinforced by programs ADEC offered.
For Joe, having a living will is only one of the rights he says is most important to him.
“We should have the right to, especially, to vote,” he says. “[We have a right] to have freedom of speech, [and] to know what is going on in the community.”
Through March, ADEC has partnered with the office of the Elkhart County Clerk to bring in a speaker to the day service locations in Elkhart County to discuss voter rights and voter registration with the individuals ADEC serves.
Tobi notes that, while self-advocacy is important, the ability to advocate for one another is also critical.
“That’s such an important part of this [booklet] too,” she says. “Because not only are we [ADEC] advocates and they are advocates for themselves, but they advocate for each other — that’s really important.”
For someone like Missy Mast, an individual ADEC serves as well as the barista at ADEC’s Gaining Grounds location in Goshen, being a voice for others is something she takes to heart.
“We are just as equal as anyone else,” says Missy Mast. “And I believe in advocating for those that are like me.”
Kevin Seymore, an individual ADEC serves, says that the right that’s most important to him is freedom.
“Freedom [to me] means to serve the community, to help the people that need help,” Kevin says. “If they’re [community members] not doing the right thing in the community, like if they’re struggling and trying to fight.”
A sense of civic duty runs deep at ADEC. Many individuals at ADEC enjoy spending time volunteering in the community. Some ADEC clients pick up and deliver food to Faith Mission each week. Some distribute food to needy students at local elementary schools. And some socialize with the cats at Here Kitty Kitty Rescue and help clean.
It’s clear that having the opportunity for choice and possibility in their lives is vitally important to the individuals we serve at ADEC.
“We have the right of freedom,” Joe says. “We have the right to dream.”