December 25, 2013

KITCHELL: Carrying Christmas forward for all


---- — When you’re an adult who can’t take care of yourself, there’s a place for you.

They call them group homes. They may not be the place of choice for some people, but they’re the choice for many, partly because there is no alternative.

Nine years ago today, I spent part of my Christmas Day working in a group home. It was a festive day for some residents, especially those who had gifts, Christmas sweaters, Christmas cards in their room and Christmas goodies in the kitchen.

Holidays for these people are different than they are for most people. Some leave for a few hours to go to church when a church bus picks them up. Some are fortunate to know volunteers who will take them somewhere for the day.

And many have no one.

They may have outlived their parents or been placed in a setting that is out of sight and out of mind for what family they have. They may want to contribute to season activities such as ringing a Salvation Army bell for a red kettle, but they’re not even asked.

That home I spent Christmas morning in wasn’t in Logansport, but there are several like it here right now. What’s more, there are dozens of adults in this community who are in group homes or living semi-independently in their own settings who have little or no support from family or friends. Some of them work and do their part to contribute to society.

It’s these people who are hurt when doors are closed to them. One of those doors is the mental health organization that parted ways with the United Way earlier this month. What that will mean for the organization that serves the disabled is uncertain. The same goes for the people who have benefited from that service, or people coming to our community who use it.

This decision isn’t about demonizing United Way. I’ve served on the United Way Board and our local organization in particular has accomplished some astounding things. We may have the best United Way executive director in the state in Joyce Mayhill. If she’s not, she’s the best executive director the local agency has ever had.

But on this day, it’s time to reflect about truly “living united” in a community sense and not in the sense that is United Way’s motto. Those among us who have contributed to United Way and those of us who never do need to reflect on what community really is.

In 1888 when the Logansport State Hospital opened its doors, it happened because local residents and officials were able to do more than come up with the people to staff it. They kept it going, even when the state struggled financially to fund it. It was that commitment that kept it open and allowed employees there to celebrate its 125th anniversary this year.

For much of that history, volunteers throughout our community, including one former Pharos-Tribune Good Neighbors recipient, made the Christmas Gift Lift for state hospital patients a reality, spreading the cheer of a community to those who, by some definitions, may have needed it the most. These volunteers didn’t do it for the money. They did it because — in Logansport — that was the right thing to do; to be your brother’s keeper and to remember that it truly is better to give than receive.

One of the things that Logansport and Cass County really does well today that it didn’t have in 1888 is the Special Olympics. It’s impressive when former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine, Olympic gold medalist Greg Bell or former Indiana University NCAA champion Landon Turner travel to Logansport, just to speak at a Special Olympics banquet. It gives us hope to see Special Olympians become gold medalists and represent our city in another country.

How far we have come as a community, as a country and as a world community in those 125 years.

With the removal of funding for the agency that serves the mentally disabled, the question we have going forward is “How can we advance this segment of our population in the 21st century?” We also have to think about the possibility that not funding an agency, or losing it entirely, is going to be a step backward for an entire segment of our population.

In this season in particular, we have to remember the words of Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol”: “God bless us every one.”

For us to really live united, it’s our responsibility as a member of our community to carry the spirit of Christmas forward every day — to the people who need it most. That’s taking “living united” to a higher level. And isn’t that what Christmas should bring out in all of us?

LSH started because of us.

Some have times with families. Some have churches who will pick them up for services. Some are fortunate to have someone who volunteers to take them somewhere.

Some have no one.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at