Michelle Mann

Dream big. Work hard. Follow your dreams.

Those sometimes cliché words of wisdom are being imparted to thousands donning mortarboard caps and matching graduation gowns this month. It is very good advice.

Last week I was privileged to be a guest at the Vivian B. Adams School Class of 2019 graduation ceremony. Four young men, dressed in black mortarboard caps and graduation gowns, walked across the stage to receive diplomas from their respective public school system superintendents and administrators.

Surrounded by a capacity crowd of family friends and supporters, the four graduates received a resounding ovation as they marched down the aisle to the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Commencement speakers challenge us to be lifelong learners. It’s a life lesson always reinforced when I step onto the VBAS campus on Stuart Tarter Road in Ozark where diversity is celebrated every day.

The school, which opened in 1971, serves people from Coffee, Dale, Henry, Houston and Pike Counties with cognitive and developmental disabilities. School buses travel 1,000 miles a day to bring Wiregrass clients to the school.

Because we don’t see the school every day, it is easy to forget that VBAS belongs to all of us. Under the direction of Hannah Adams Parker, the school provides services for people from 3 years old to 82 years old through an extended year program, providing services 12 months a year.

Caseworkers visit homes of children as young as three to provide early intervention. Adult Case Management staff focus on assisting clients in making personal choices and helping clients access life-enhancing services.

Printed below the VBAS logo are the words, “visualize, believe, achieve, success.”

William Meyer added a special twist to those four words with his advice to those attending the graduation ceremony for the VBAS Class of 2019.

Meyer served as the VBAS Transition Teacher for the class and is the author of a poem that was read by Transition Paraprofessional Carissia Bighems to the standing room only crowd of family, friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the graduates.

“Are we really different?” Meyer’s poem began. “Some may wonder but not me. I see life and I think everything seems alike.

“But why am I treated so differently? Is it because I am not able to talk? Is it because I am not able to walk?” the poem continues. “Or is because I am not able to be like you?”

Facilities like VBAS are increasingly at risk in today’s economic environment. Medicaid, which has funded many employment and community-based residential programs, is under fire.

The Medicaid Waiver Waiting List is the disconnect between those with needs and the services they deserve. The individuals needing these services are not equipped for the workforce but after age 21, they become eligible for Medicaid services and stand on their own as adults.

We need to fight, not only for progress for the special citizens among us, but to retain the accomplishments of past decades. With a shining star like VBAS in our midst, we need to embrace it more than ever.

The camaraderie, the mutual encouragement, support and general “can-do” attitude is felt the minute you enter the VBAS campus. The thunderous applause and the standing ovations—from those who were able to stand—for their very own graduates was just one more example of what I have seen displayed every single time I have been there.

Invite a representative of VBAS to make a presentation to your church or club about what VBAS adds to this community that we call the Wiregrass. Contact your legislators and local policymakers to let them know we need them to promote and enact policies that benefit people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

VBAS operates on the premise that people with developmental disabilities can become productive members of the workforce.

“I always try to do my best,” read the last line of Meyer’s poem. “You will see if you just look at me, I am a human being just like you.”

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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