‘Keep it open’

Opportunity Center supporters advocate for choice in Columbus

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Joe Moore (left) and his son, Patrick, address the crowd during Ohio Summit for Employment Choice in Columbus Wednesday.

COLUMBUS — Seneca County Opportunity Center officials are advocating for choices.

About 20 individuals, family members and staff representing the center attended Ohio Summit for Employment Choice at Sheraton Capitol Square Wednesday.

They advocated for the importance of ensuring a full array of options for residences and employment remains available for those with developmental disabilities.

Patrick Steyer, who worked in a restaurant, has experience working in Seneca County Opportunity Center’s workshop.

“Keep it open,” he said.

ACCSES, an organization based in Washington, D.C., hosted Wednesday’s gathering. It is a network of more than 1,200 organizations that provide services to people with disabilities across the country, according to its website.

Rodney Biggert, director of adult services at Seneca County Opportunity Center, said there is a federal and state effort to change the delivery service for people with developmental disabilities, and officials want to see community employment and inclusion.

Seneca County Opportunity Center officials believe people should have a choice about services, he said.

Superintendent Lewis Hurst said it is important that people with developmental disabilities speak up about what’s important to them.

“We have to be louder (than opponents),” he said.

A ruling issued by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and deals with people with disabilities receiving Medicaid home and community-based services could mean thousands of people with significant disabilities are forced out of their choice of residential and pre-vocational settings, according to a release from ACCSES.

Seneca County Opportunity Center operates Seneca Re-ad Industries, a sheltered workshop, in Tiffin and Fostoria.

“These people are happy. They feel safe,” said Beth Smith, who worked at the center for 30 years.

Kate McSweeny, vice president of government affairs and general counsel for ACCSES, said everyone in the room Wednesday was making decisions, and they want to be where they thrive.

People with developmental disabilities have an important economic footprint in the community, a lot of people are employed and they’re making a product, she said.

“We are the community,” she said.

McSweeny said she finds people loving what they do when she visits member sites, and there is a lot of satisfaction. That choice is important, she said.

She said she visited a center in Springfield Tuesday and recalled thinking she didn’t see anybody with disabilities.

“I saw a lot of people working really hard,” she said.

Jennine Kramer, who represented Seneca County Opportunity Center at the summit, said her sister, Kelly Sullivan, had been involved in the center since she was a child. It is her community and she loves going there, Kramer said.

“She loved her $2 checks,” she said.

Kramer said her sister has a right to work and a right to work where she chooses.

“She has value,” she said.