All posts by jeanette

INTERRUPTED

IMG_1006This morning at Dutton Farm was the typical hustle and bustle of people flooding in and greeting each other and going through their usual routines. It was a busy day with many people, lots of unexpected interruptions and much to do.
I stole away for a few minutes around 11:30 to sit with my bookkeeper and analyze multiple year comparisons of financial data. It’s funny to me that earlier in 2016 I attempted to create some kind of structure and boundary in my office so I put a sign up that says something like “When door is closed please knock” or “when closed please stay out”. This sign is literally completely ignored and each one of my farmer friends (some more than others) who feels the need, flings open my door, heads on up, plops on a chair and forces me to slow down and remember the whole point of the farm. Sometimes the visit is lighthearted and fun, like when my new friend Nick stomps up the stairs and announces with fist pumping in the air and the enthusiasm of someone ready to fight terrorism “I AM GOING TO TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE!!!”, or other times it is someone who lays their head in my lap and cries until they have no more tears left to cry, but each encounter makes my heart full and so glad that they ignore my stupid sign.
This morning was no different, and as I was pouring over numbers and budgets (in all my type A glory) I hear commotion coming up the stairs. I wince a little inside because I am anxious to get through what is in front of me. Bursting into my office asking “where is Jenny, Where is Jenny” is my relatively new friend Sheena. Sheena who was supposed to come to work on Monday at 9am is able to make it instead on Wednesday at 11:30, but whatever, we are working on it. We began working together a few months ago when, in typical Sheena fashion, she bursts through my door asking for help. This lovely lady who never fails to make me smile from the deepest part of my soul lives utterly and completely alone. When she first came, she explained a little of her story and the devastating abuse and inability to land a job due to her myriad of diagnoses which make it difficult for her to keep her commitments. So, after we talked that day, I hired her on the spot, and I am so glad that I did. Since that day, she has allowed me to see the greatness in the human race. So many people have brought life to her in so many different ways, from visiting her, to bringing her necessities, giving her rides or just answering the phone when she calls. It has truly been a privilege to witness. She is poor as poor can be, and is a little disorganized (well, who am I kidding, a lot disorganized) but she has the most breathtakingly beautiful soul. I believe with all of my heart that we will be friends for life, and not only because I love her, I most certainly do, but because she will do whatever it takes to get a hold of me, and if calling 50 times doesn’t work, she will call the mayor’s office and ask them to find me(which she did).
So, anyhow, back to my morning. I am not really expecting her at the time that she showed up, but what is really surprising to me is that she has someone trailing behind her. Sheena immediately tells me rapidly, “Jenny, I brought **** with me! She wants a job here too. I told her how you helped me and that you can help her too!” I am dumbfounded and grasping for words. “How did you get here?” She answers quickly, “Uber, and oh yeah, I need to borrow $13 to pay them.” I crack a smile and manage to say “Sheena, you can’t bring people to your place of employment and surprise your boss and then ask for an interview and hire on the spot, it doesn’t really work like that. You need to at least call me first. I mean there is protocol…” Somehow in the Lord’s mercy, He stops me from continuing and I notice the lack of eye contact and the gait that isn’t quite right in the small frame standing behind the boisterous Sheena. I study this new girl and see that she is merely a child and most certainly has some developmental delay. She will not look at me, already expecting to be turned away. I change directions and buy some time. “Okay, why don’t you two get settled up here, let me wrap a few things up and I’ll get back with you.” I move on in a blur of our day with all of the joyful, eye opening, heart-warming and hard things that each moment brings. After about 30 minutes, I head back to Sheena and her friend, still not sure of what to say or do. I think to myself, In all logic, I don’t know this girl, is she even safe, we don’t have enough as it is. All of the excuses running through my head to convince myself that I am justified to make her someone else’s issue. I sit down and plan to let her down gently, but instead of saying what I planned to say, “Where did you go to high school?” pops out. She answers quietly, and finishes with a barely audible “worst four years of my life”. “How old are you?” She is just nineteen. I continue on to ask questions and find that she is living ALONE in an apartment in an unsafe part of town. She is in fact disabled and grew up in the throngs of drug addiction and abuse. As our conversation comes to a close I am barely able to breathe, but working hard to appear unphased in her presence so it is not awkward for her to share. It is close to lunch time so I hand her an application and tell her to work on it the best she can while she has her lunch. Literally, not even exaggerating, this little girl pulls out a sleeve of saltine crackers half gone to eat for lunch. This was all she had. I felt like someone had just threw a bucket of cold water in my face. “You know what, I’ll just grab you something for lunch, don’t even worry about wasting food from home. You just save that for a snack for later”. I head downstairs and cannot even process what is happening. As I sit here now, I am sure that the Lord is using Dutton Farm in a mighty way. Definitely not because of me, but despite me, and when I lose my way or focus on the wrong thing, God can use a faithful friend like Sheena to put me back on track. How close I came to being like the one in the story of the Good Samaritan who crossed over on the other side and made excuses as to why I didn’t have to love “this neighbor” today. It’s true, Dutton Farm does not have all the resources that we need at the moment to help her, but I have experienced enough by now to know that God will supply what we need to do what He has asked us to do, and by the way, if you feel like you are a part of that plan, please private message or call me. Thank you to each of you who journey with us even through reading my meager words and offering up a prayer for us at Dutton Farm. You mean more to us than you know…

A Public Thank You Note To Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley From a Grateful Momma

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Dear Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley,

This letter may never get to you, I understand, but I am still deeply compelled to publicly thank you for your relentless work on behalf of people with disabilities and your most recent victory to end the practice of seclusion and restraint used on students in the classroom. I have met you in person once before at a rally and you were kind and sincere to each person that came up to you with questions and comments. Your courage and conviction have led to the passing of this bill to end the practice of seclusion and restraint that will protect so many vulnerable and often voiceless students and their families and I am truly grateful and proud to be a citizen of this great state.
I am writing to you not only as an advocate, but as a grateful mother of a child with special needs who fell victim to the use of seclusion in her classroom. My husband and I struggled immensely from the very beginning of our parenting journey with our special needs daughter. When we adopted our precious gift at two and half, we were not completely sure what to expect, and things were rocky and lonely and agonizing from the start. We knew something was wrong but we had no idea what to do except lean hard on each other and press even harder into God. I’ll never forget the day her and I made the first of many two and a half hour drives down to the neuro psych department at the University of Michigan. I drove home white knuckled and terrified because she had been diagnosed with a mental illness and learning delays. From that day our whole world opened up into a new normal that I have grown to love. Yes, my husband and I were shattered and afraid, but we were also resolute and committed. We learned to stop handing oars to people who didn’t want to row and we clung to those who stood by us through every step. It was during this time that I began to realize that our daughter was a special gift to my husband and I for so many reasons. She taught us how to be patient and humble, but also how to be courageous and resilient. She taught us to be unashamed of our struggle and open to differences in others. She taught us how to love sacrificially and she helped us to understand God’s heart for the broken. If we are willing to step back and learn from children that are different, or dare I even say, children that seem to be difficult, we can learn a great deal about the beauty in humanity.
We have kept our daughter very close to us as we learned how to protect and nurture a child with mental illness because it is so very misunderstood, and we have only recently begun to trust others with her care. She began school this year and fell victim to the use of seclusion and restraint in her classroom. I have always been strongly against this practice, but was able to see firsthand how antagonizing and humiliating it was for another human being to be treated in this way. She was held in seclusion almost every day of her first experience in a public school setting until we were able to transfer her after four weeks. When we first found out about the amount of time she was held in seclusion we were heartbroken. It was literally as if we were sucker punched so hard that our hearts ripped right out of our chests. All we could do at the time was pray, but little did we know that the answer to our prayer would come so swiftly and powerfully. Little did we know that the answer to our prayer would come from the Lieutenant Governor of our state who would courageously and relentlessly fight for our daughter whom you have never met and so many other children who felt like they had no voice. Thank you for using your influence on behalf of the most vulnerable and for speaking up for people with special needs. You are a true hero to us Mr. Lieutenant Governor and our family is forever grateful to you for your service to the special citizens of the great state of Michigan. May God bless you and shine His favor upon you and your lovely family.

Why Hiring Someone with a Disability is Smart Business

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I recently read about a survey done in regards to adults with developmental disabilities and unemployment. The results were staggering as they concluded that over 85% of people living with a developmental disability were unemployed. I had to reread the statistic to really let it sink in. In my initial reaction, I had not even factored in the possibility that out of the 15% of people who actually were employed, there may have been people who were severely underemployed or working for significantly less than minimum wage at sheltered workshops.

Unfortunately, I believe that the soaring 85% unemployment rate for disabled adults is just something that we have accepted as normal. After working alongside people with developmental disabilities professionally for over ten years, I whole heartedly believe that there is a better way, and I am determined to be a part of a solution that empowers people with disabilities but also brings the necessary support when needed. I know this is not a dream that can come true overnight, but I want to share a few things that I have concluded over the years about hiring people with disabilities.

There are many reasons to hire someone with a disability, but I have just outlined a few that stand out to me… Not just because it is the noble and charitable thing to do, but because it makes sense and is in the best interest of both the person with a disability and your business.

1. People with disabilities are loyal and committed
– If you are experienced in working with folks with developmental disabilities, you will agree with me that they have extremely high job retention and low turnover rates. This quality is good hiring practice for any business or organization. In my work at Dutton Farm, absences are extremely rare. I have grown so accustomed to seeing our fellow employees with disabilities every work day that I become deeply concerned if anyone is absent without previous notice. They just show up, rain or shine, good day or bad day, they will simply be there.

2. People with disabilities boost morale
– Every work place can benefit from a greater commitment to diversity and inclusion. Again, it’s good business practice. With autism on the rise, it is highly likely that many of your employees have a personal connection with someone with a disability, and will not only embrace a culture of inclusion but will be proud to be a part of a business or organization that is committed to hiring people with disabilities. Multiple surveys have shown that many people are unsatisfied with their current job and want to feel like they are making a difference and not just punching a time clock.

3. People with disabilities work hard
– The world that we live in is not really built for people with disabilities. Sure, we have adapted it in recent years to be more accommodating, but there are still significant inconveniences in every-day life for people with disabilities. As a result, I have co-workers that have either physical, mental or emotional impairments who have developed absolutely incredible ways to adapt to the world in which they live. My friends are creative and innovative as they find a way to get the job done. People with disabilities have learned to work hard and smart just to navigate their every-day life, and this is an incredible asset that they bring to the work place as well.

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4. People with disabilities have many ABILITIES
– Too often, people who have disabilities are defined by a particular diagnosis or impairment. Other people cannot (or choose not to) see beyond the inability to solve a math equation, read a book or drive a car and therefore believe that they are incapable of anything profitable and thus are perceived to be only consumers and never contributers. This belief is not only absolutely and completely false, but has created a system that chooses to subsidize a person’s entire existence rather than allowing them the privilege to get help where they need it but also find independence and dignity by contributing where they are able. An individual that I work with is a fantastic greeter at a local business. He has a winning personality and his charm is hard to resist. He has a disability and was unable to find employment after losing his first job right out of high school. He is almost 50 years old, which means he was unemployed for 30 years before finding an employer that saw his ABILITY and chose to hire him. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for this opportunity for my friend, but I have a dream that one day people with disabilities like my friend won’t have to wait 30 years for their chance at employment.

We are all created differently, with many unique gifts and talents that make us special, but we all were created with equal value. We all deserve the chance to go after our dreams and we all deserve the right to be treated with dignity. I hope that one day the pendulum starts to swing in the other direction where we embrace a new normal where people with disabilities are not only included in the workforce, but are seen as an asset with incredible valuable to the health and success of the operation.

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My Response to the New Release, Me Before You, and Physician Assisted Suicide

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I am greatly troubled by the newly released film, Me Before You, that is glamorizing Physician Assisted Suicide for adults affected by disability. I am disgusted with the appalling message sent from this seemingly innocent and fun loving, romantic comedy that really loving people who are disabled means that you allow them to end their own lives. My heart is heavy and breaking for my friends who are disabled to have seen something so hurtful. I think of my heroes Joni Earackson Tada and Katherine Wolf who, through a broken neck and a massive brain stem stroke, live courageously with a life altering disability and have changed countless lives and impacted the world in a way that they never would have, had it not been for their disability. I have seen first-hand, the 34 year strong, marriage of Joni and Ken Tada in action. I have seen the fun, love and sincerity in their relationship, even through difficult times.

I am just sick to think about people that have been recently been affected by a disability and might have gone to see this movie in the hopes of receiving some encouragement, and instead, come away with the idea that maybe they would be better off dead. If that is you, let me give you truth. You’re life is ALWAYS worth living. You still have purpose in your pain, and God has not left you or forgotten you. He is with you through it all and He loves you deeply.

I think of my friends at the farm. If you don’t know, I co founded a non profit that seeks to celebrate, educate and employ adults with developmental disabilities. The joy that abounds here at the farm is like heaven came to earth. The sense of peace is something you will not find anywhere else. The talents and gifts that reside in my co workers with disabilities is absolutely astounding. Yes, there are incredibly hard days. Days where we are tired of not fitting in, not getting the job, not getting invited, not passing the test or just from living in a world that isn’t on your side. When those hard days come, my staff and I are there to rally around the hurting, to remind them of their value and to celebrate their purpose. We had a friend who works with us who recently toyed with the idea of suicide. He has autism and has mental health issues. Thinking of condoning and supporting this idea is absolutely egregious to me! Instead, we sprang into action. We put him on 24 watch, encouraged him and reminded him of his worth and how important he is to us. He is now stable, employed and happy to be alive. He has a team of supporters who have him over for dinner, bring him to church and show him God’s love. People with disabilities are at the highest risk of being aborted. Doctors are actually convincing young and fearful couples that abortion is the right and kind thing to do. That the world is no place for someone with Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy etc. My response, “You must not know anyone with Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, because if you did, I wouldn’t have to explain anything to you.” This is why holistic integration is important, because people must know personally those who have disabilities. When you know someone who is developmentally disabled and that person has touched your life, it changes everything. I see that today, people with disabilities are up against the risk of being convinced that their life is just not worth living.

Friends, when we do not trust in the sovereignty of God and that He intentionally knit each person together carefully in the womb of their mother, we are headed for the breakdown of the sanctity of every human life. Every life is precious. Every single one.

Lastly, I think of my sister with Down Syndrome (cue tears). She is 40, and she is happy and loved by her family and friends and I consider her life of more value than my own. To think that our society is even remotely headed in a direction that does not see her life as anything but deeply and intrinsically valuable and worth fighting for causes me to rise up and speak out. I will not shrink back in fear or look the other way in complacency. Until my least breath, I will speak for those who may not be able to find the words to speak for themselves. Amen.

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To be more like her

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My New Years resolution is to become more like her. My mom. I have a long way to go, but she resembles the kind of disciple of Jesus I want to be. She glorifies God though the sunny days and through the fiercest storm.

She loves sacrificially and she loves people to eternity. I watched her as a child as she welcomed all different kinds of people through the threshold of our home. The majority of our guests were those who broken, poor and outcast. I’ve seen her in the quiet of our home when no one was watching except for a curious little child as she would carry people who were severely disabled joyfully to her couch and sit and have rich conversation with them as if it was the most natural thing in the world. For me, watching from a distance, it was life altering. Her actions permeated my soul, awakened my compassion and nurtured my faith.

As a teen, many times, she has fearlessly stared down any demon seeking to destroy me and my faith in Jesus. She wasn’t looking for our approval, she was looking for so much more than that. She battled for her children’s souls and urged us to love beyond just ourselves. Beyond the comfort of our own homes and beyond our own ability. She urged us to love with the power of Christ in us.

I am always inspired by how she is never interested in the approval of others. she speaks without fear of disapproval and she gives without need for anything in return.

She loves my husband and fully respects him as the authority over our home.

My children adore her and she loves them well.

She believes in us as parents and understands that we are ultimately responsible for raising disciples of Jesus in a very difficult time and she always backs us in our efforts without question. She believes in the importance of obedience and it resonates with our children.

She trusted me and believed in me when I was young and oh so green when we started Dutton Farm. She gave me the freedom to try and fail and then gave me the confidence to try again. She is humble and resolute when she passes more responsibility on to me and her belief in me makes all the difference.

She was the one who first introduced me to our beautiful Savior and I believed every word about Him because she lived in such a way where I could see Him through her.

Her life’s story is absolutely astounding and I am proud to follow in her footsteps. May her legacy continue for generations to come.

You see, when you take the time to believe in someone and let them watch you live your life, you’ll never know what kind of impact you will have on the world.