I found this great story on US News and World Report a year ago – it’s about how one man doesn’t let his disability hold him back.
Joe Steffy is off to Overland Park, Kan., this week to do a PowerPoint presentation on his business, Poppin’ Joe’s Kettle Korn. He’s a 23-year-old small-business man with a goal of $100,000 in sales by 2012. Joe also has autism and Down syndrome and is nonverbal. When he gives his talk, he will push buttons on an augmentative speech device to deliver the words. His audience will be parents who fervently hope their own special-needs children will be able to work, too.
The path to Joe Steffy’s success was not an easy one; Ray Steffy worked closely with Dave Hammis, an advocate for self-employment for people with disabilities in Middletown, Ohio, who trains business owners, government employees, and parents on how to make use of state and federal programs. The Steffys wrote up a business plan and helped Joe secure $25,000 in grants from programs like Social Security Administration’s Plan to Achieve Self-Support program (PASS).
In 2005, Poppin’ Joe’s Kettle Korn was born. Sales have grown from $16,000 in 2005 to $50,000 in 2008, both from selling at festivals and from delivering popcorn to local outlets. Joe has five part-time employees, and his parents help out with driving and other tasks. “Pop and everyone that works with him knows whatever Joe wants to do you let him do, because he’s the boss,” Ray says. “If he wants to pop, he’ll shove Dad out of the way and pop.”
If the business stays on track, it should be grossing more than $100,000 in three years, and the Steffys are seeking a business partner who can work with Joe to manage the business. Joe is no longer on Social Security disability payments; instead, he pays state sales tax and state and federal income tax. He rents his own house and is helped by caregivers who are paid by a state program.
“It’s been hard work, from the standpoint of physical work,” says Ray Steffy, who is 67. “But a parent with a child like Joe has a choice. You can either kick in and do this kind of thing, or you can sit and fret emotionally with the amount of energy, worrying about what’s going to happen to them.”
The payoff for that effort, as far as the Steffys are concerned, has been priceless. They see their son make a local popcorn delivery, accept payment, fold it, and put it in his pocket. When he walks out, his dad says, Joe looks 3 inches taller than when he walked in.
Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:
Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her, You will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.
We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.
Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, “To Meredith,” in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, “When a Pet Dies.” Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:
Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.
Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.
Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love.
My sister (Elodie) and her husband (Dick), both in their 50’s, went to Florida for an ocean holiday. One afternoon while walking along the beach they stopped at a bench and sat down to enjoy the view. By and by Elodie decided to take a dip in the ocean. Dick said that he’d just wait there on the bench. Off she went and it wasn’t long before an older gentleman came and sat down beside Dick. Now there was nothing Dick enjoyed more than striking up a conversation with a stranger and soon the two of them were engaged in a jovial tete-ta-tete.
As Elodie emerged from the ocean she saw an ambulance, lights flashing, by the bench where she had left Dick and Dick was gone. She ran to the bench in time to see the ambulance drive off. She rushed to the car and followed the ambulance to the hospital. She frantically tried to get one of the attendants to tell her what had happened but was pushed away by a doctor and several nurses. No one had the time to speak to her as they loaded Dick onto a gurney and rushed him into the hospital. One of the nurses hung back and guided Elodie to a waiting room.
An hour passed. Elodie is sitting worriedly in the waiting room, still in her bathing suit. A doctor enters and tells her that they were unable to revive her husband. He tells her that there is a chapel down the hall if she feels the need to pray. She can’t speak. She feels paralized. She can only nod.
The old man who was sitting on the bench with Dick peeks into the waiting room. “Mrs. Huttner?” he asks. Elodie nods. The old man comes in and sits next to her. He takes her hand in his and says “I was the last person to be with your husband”. And he proceeds to share with her that last conversation.
Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, and then drive away. But, I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door.
This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself. So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware. “Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. “It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.” “Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.” I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”
We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse. “Nothing,” I said. “You have to make a living,” she answered. “There are other passengers,” I responded.
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.” I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.
Weekly Inspiration: Jaime Escalante, the inspiration for the 1988 award-winning film “Stand and Deliver,” dies at 79
Teachers like Jaime Escalante remind us that there really are educators who care about their students.
The former East Los Angeles high school teacher who taught the nation that underprivileged, inner-city students could master subjects as demanding as calculus, died this Tuesday, March 31st, 2010. For over 20 years, Escalante taught calculus and advanced math at Garfield High School, a high school filled with poor, hardened street kids who dealt with drugs, abuse, and teen pregnancy on a regular basis. They were not expected to make anything of themselves, perform at a high level in any capacity, and were certainly not suppose to master math, much less calculus.
Escalante proved everyone wrong when nearly all his students would consistently pass the national AP Calculus exam every year, a notoriously difficult exam. Through hard work, encouragement, and tough love, he was able to get even the most disadvantaged students to realize their potential and succeed.
Escalante received even more widespread acclaim when his remarkable teaching inspired “Stand and Deliver,” a 1988 award-winning film that portrayed his mentorship and education of students at Garfield High.