Council integrates the retarded into everyday community life

AUSTINTOWN -- "Every Face in Our Community Belongs" is the firm belief of the Mahoning County Council for Retarded Citizens.
In fact, it was the theme for Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities awareness month in March.
Retarded citizens "are people and have just as much right in the community as anyone else. They have a right to be a part of it, nor apart from it," said Elaine Walters of the council.
Walters' son John is 30 and has been in the Mahoning County Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities program since he was 14.
Background: The council was formed in 1955 by parents who wanted services for their children with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Since then, the council has played a role in initiating legislation and state and local programs for retarded citizens.
The council focuses on four main areas to promote the welfare of retarded people: Public awareness; parent support, information and referral; residential monitor/visiting program; and social and recreational programs.
Among the activities sponsored are Camp Rachel, a six-week summer day camp for children ages 6-22 at Leonard Kirtz School; monthly bingo games, sing-alongs, dances, library-activity nights; and Leonard Kirtz School prom and graduation.
Biggest worry: As the council works to get legislation and programs and services for retarded, the biggest worry of parents is what will happen when they are gone.
"It is with you every day," Walters said. "You always want to teach as much as you can so they can be as independent as possible."
Walters believes it is often attitude barriers that adversely affect everyday life for people with developmental disabilities.
"Retarded citizens are in many ways just like anyone else. They have a need for fun and friends and to be needed, to do something productive and accomplish things," she said.
Many times the general public may avoid retarded citizens because of the fear of the unknown.
"One of the best things you can do is acknowledge them. I have a greater respect for those who talk to my son directly instead of talking about him through me," Walters said.
She said Mahoning County has been very receptive. As a result, people with mental retardation work at a variety of jobs within the community.
"Retarded persons are friends and neighbors and true members of the community," she said.
Positive side: While acknowledging that it can be difficult to raise a retarded child, Walters said there are positives.
"I love my child like any parent would. Also, it kind of focuses your attention on the simple things ... like playing games around the table, or shopping or going out for ice cream or rides. Those are still significant things. Holidays are always special occasions. Sometimes other children can become a little blas & eacute;," she said.
Having a retarded child can also be a humbling experience.
"It causes you to realize that you can't do it by yourself. You have to seek help from family and friends and through the MRDD program. If you don't get help, it can lead to divorce and to one parent having the entire burden," she said.
"We need to emphasize the tremendous amount of love and devotion families have; but they also have tremendous stress every day," said Larry Duck, the county's MRDD superintendent.

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