As my daughter Angel neared high school, I became more nervous for her knowing graduation was four short years away. What would she do for interaction? How would I occupy her time and keep her engaged?
Most people would say college or work, but my Angel is unique. She is developmentally disabled. College and work, the way most do it, would simply not work.
For a few minutes, my heart was completely broken when I first learned of her disability; I did not even understand graduation was possible. Like everything else I look into, I went to the internet to search and learn. I discovered that my Angel could graduate, get a job, live on her own, and do most of the things everyone else does, but she would always need help and support. When high school started I went on the search again, and found the answer, Network Day Service Center, Inc. Started in Rome, Georgia in 1954 by a group of parents with special needs children, Network is well established in the community. They have employment development services, skills training, life skills training, and many other great programs.
One day by pure chance, I meet Shawn, a sweet young man with a beautiful smile. He was selling programs at the Rome Braves game. I found out that he went to Network and I had to know more. I spoke with Jenny at the center and learned he was into everything. Shawn works three jobs; at the stadium and buses tables at a restaurant. He also has an absolute love for music, so with the help of his Mom and Dad, Shawn started his own DJ business. Shawn is diligent about his duties at Network; sweeping around the shredders and getting the daily agenda together every day, even catching things that have been left out. He volunteers at the Hospitality House and Habitat for Humanity. He participates in a dance club, art club, and a choir. Jenny also told me that he had difficulties adjusting at first, but overcame those quickly. To see such a well adjusted young man warmed my heart, and gave me hope.
I decided Network was the place for my Angel. She is very shy around new people and does not react well in new places. I wish I could tell you she took to Network right away, but life is never that easy. I had to pick her up several times, big tears rolling down her beautiful cheeks. She tried to run away on one occasion, but a very astute Network employee patiently comforted her. I know my little girl and am surprised it was only once; she is a bit of a handful at times. As time went by she adjusted.
She loves the computer lab where she is taught basic computer skills, safe practices while on the web, and has lots of educational software to choose from. (I am told it is the largest lab for developmentally disabled adults in Northwest Georgia set up with adaptive equipment.) My heart leapt the day my baby girl sent me a friend request, which she told me later she did all by herself. Angel went to work with Network Day Service Center’s supported employment group, cleaning several places around town. She comes home often excited about her job, trips that were made, things she has learned, or games she has played. My worry for my Angel was lifted some, and I am proud.
Every time I walk into the building, I can feel the pure joy and enthusiasm felt by everyone there. Network has been the miracle my Angel needed. I would love to just say thank you to the parents who had the insight to start Network Day Service Center, Inc. for all the Angels out there who need and love this program and the services they provide.
-As told to Sarah Ellison, Student Writer
This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.