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Lincoln Daily News
601 Keokuk St.
Lincoln, IL  62656

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Right care provided for disabled son          Send a link to a friend

To the editor:

My name is Patricia Birk and I have lived in Lincoln since 1959. My son, Tony, is developmentally disabled and lives at Lincoln Terrace in Lincoln -- a group home for the developmentally disabled.

Tony was in the first trainable mentally handicapped class at kindergarten level in Lincoln and was in the first TMH class at the high school level. He was the first of his peers to be placed into the first group home here in Lincoln, located on Railroad Avenue, and was very happy there. But when a second home was built, many of his peers lived there, so he moved into that facility.

When that second home was proposed at Wyatt Avenue and Kickapoo Street, there was opposition, so Tony and I attended a city council meeting to tell our side. Neighbors were concerned they would have "these people" terrorizing their neighborhoods and property values would decrease. I introduced Tony and told them he was the "type of person" that would live in the homes. I told them he had lived in Lincoln all his life and attended the schools and played in the neighborhood without any complaints or bad incidents. Well, the home was built and everything went well. In fact, the home actually improved the neighborhood.

The caseworker provided by the workshop he attended part time while he was in high school approached us about Tony living in the group home. She said Tony was the type of individual they wanted to live in the home and that he deserved a life on his own. After we thoroughly discussed it, we decided we would allow him to move there.

It was the single most difficult decision I have ever made in my life. The decision was not about us but about Tony and his future after we were gone. The thought of allowing my son's well-being to be entrusted to strangers was almost unbearable. But my husband and I felt it was a "golden opportunity" because at our stage in life we still were able to make choices about his future. If we had waited until we were forced to make this decision, we may not have any choices. My husband, Wilmer, and I hadn't ever considered Tony living anywhere except with us and had tried to make arrangements for his care after we were gone.

[to top of second column in this letter]

But Tony moved into the group home after high school and served as sort of a "trial person" for his school friends and peer group. Other parents asked me about the home and how Tony liked it. I told them we are definitely blessed to have such good facilities here in Lincoln. I am not sure I could have let Tony go to another city to live, where I could not be able to see him often. I know other children and adults who lived at home -- some of them seem to have limited activities and seem to be bored. Others have little structure and need medical attention. I have also seen some people in very inappropriate situations without enough supervision.

I have seen people in institutions like LDC. I worked there while I was pregnant with Tony. I think it was God's way of preparing me to care for him. There were people there I didn't feel belonged there and would have benefited from a home like this. Some shouldn't have been there at all because they were so high-functioning. And then there were the people that needed so much care. These were the people that really need a facility like LDC. Many residents with tracheotomies would not have survived for such a long time if they hadn't received the skilled care they got at LDC, attended by qualified nursing staff that knew how to care for their needs. If Tony needed that kind of care, I would love to have a place like that.

Each individual has different needs. People like Tony and the family he lives with certainly benefit from a home like Lincoln Terrace. He has a family there. He receives good meals, clean living conditions, medical care, eye care, dental care, vacations, dates with girlfriends, parties, supervised work at the workshop, attends church services and more. I feel good that I know Tony's needs will be taken care of when I am gone.

I hope Gov. Blagojevich and other decision-makers will support group homes like these. Who knows better than parents what is good for their children?

Patricia Birk

(Posted June 16, 2006)

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