MRDD: Workshop wonders

This month marks MRDD Awareness.
BOARDMAN -- Jason Smeal and Tim O'Brien overcame mental and physical obstacles to contribute to the hum of activity at Meshel MASCO workshop.
The workshop on Marwood Circle is part of the Mahoning County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
March is MRDD Awareness Month.
Both Smeal, 32, of Youngstown, and O'Brien, 43, of Canfield, perform labor, assembly and packaging work at the facility and participate in several activities.
"He's been through a lot," said Lora Colla, Smeal's mother.
He suffered his first seizure while an infant and underwent three surgeries on his legs and had to take growth hormone when he was a teenager.
"He's overcome a lot of physical obstacles," said George Gabriel, workshop director.
Colla said her son loves to work.
He often has his Vindicator carrier bag with him, and was reluctant on a recent morning to let it out of his sight. He's been a carrier for his street for a couple of months.
His mother and stepfather are helping him get accustomed to the route. Colla said she's using the opportunity to get her exercise.
"He smiles from ear to ear while he's delivering them," Colla said. "I tell him his teeth are going to freeze when it's cold because he's smiling so much."
Other activities
Smeal, who has worked in the workshop 10 years, also participates in the Special Olympics and enjoys karaoke.
Smeal said his favorite karaoke song is the early 1990s country hit "Achy Breaky Heart."
He attended Leonard Kirtz School from ages 4 to 22.
"I can't say enough about all of the people who have helped him," Colla said. "I feel that my son has had the best."
When Smeal was a baby, doctors told his parents that he'd never walk or talk.
"Now, he does it all," his mother said.
O'Brien, who lives in a foster home with David Pew, started coming to the workshop about four years ago.
"I come four days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday," O'Brien added.
He also has a seizure disorder that necessitates a protective helmet while he works to guard against injury. The seizures occur almost daily.
In his free time, O'Brien likes riding his bike and especially enjoys recycling aluminum cans, Pew said.
Pew and Paul Iden, MRDD planning and development coordinator, said O'Brien was in a wheelchair when he first arrived at the workshop.
"At the workshop, he works some on the computer and helps out the instructor quite a bit," Iden said.
O'Brien also likes to help others, rushing to lend a hand to his fellow workers, according to workshop personnel.
Iden said both Smeal and O'Brien are examples of the accomplishments that can be achieved by people despite disabilities.
"Look at the capabilities, don't think about the disabilities," he said.

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