Rachel, 28, was born into a military family in Rapid City, SD, and lived in many different cities growing up. During her early years, Rachel enjoyed being around animals and taking care of them, and she loved to hold family friends’ babies. Rachel had a best friend who also had a disability, and they enjoyed sleepovers and just hanging out.
Rachel has been engaged with MVLE—an agency that creates futures for people with disabilities, and is dedicated to assisting individuals achieve integrated community employment—since receiving her high school graduation certificate. After graduation, Rachel and her mom, Sharon Bartlett, toured a number of facilities that offered services to adults with intellectual disabilities, and found MVLE to be a great fit.
Rachel began working with the janitorial crew in MVLE’s offices, and as her job skills got stronger, her job coaches began looking for outside employment. Rachel interviewed at a number of businesses and fell in love with Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church. She was hired, and loves her job as a custodian, cleaning the church and its preschool.
“It was all so nice,” Rachel said. “I felt like a leader. I helped others and my co-workers.”
The job ended in January 2020, and Rachel was working with MVLE to find another position when the pandemic hit. At first Sharon and her husband were concerned that Rachel would regress without her job and familiar routine, but the opposite happened. Rachel rose to the occasion, participating in MVLE’s three daily meetings and work readiness sessions on Zoom, which provided a structure to her day.
Rachel and Sharon, who is a special education teacher, also developed a productive daily routine, with Rachel helping out with laundry, vacuuming, cooking, cleaning and walking the dogs, while Sharon taught her classes online.
Today, Sharon is teaching in person four days per week while Rachel continues with her MVLE Zoom classes.
“She has come such a long way with the support of her job coaches,” Sharon said.
Rachel has an intellectual disability, and is bipolar. Since the family resettled in Alexandria, VA after Sharon’s husband, a retired colonel, was stationed at the Pentagon, Rachel has been hospitalized five times as a result of psychotic episodes. Each time, MVLE was there to support her.
“Her job coaches always stood behind her,” Sharon said. “They visited her, supported her, and wrote letters. They let her know that her job was secure and would be waiting for her. The MVLE support system never let her down.”
Adds Rachel: “They made me feel so good, and so important.”
As a mom and a teacher, Sharon is deeply grateful for the ways in which MVLE supports people with intellectual disabilities and co-occurring conditions. “MVLE believes that their clients can learn. They don’t see a ceiling. They believe that people always have the ability to grow and expand their knowledge. MVLE lives that, and it shows. Each time Rachel got out of the hospital she would go right back to work, no matter how many jobs skills she had to relearn. They were always supportive and never stopped believing in her. They strive for all of their clients to be leaders.”
Rachel is doing great these days, and is looking forward to working again as soon as possible. And she is really excited about one day getting her own apartment!
Sharon, a special education teacher for grades 4-6, has some advice for parents of children with intellectual disabilities who may not know where to turn for help.
“Find community resources early. Community based services (CSB) are usually found in all counties, and can connect families with many resources to help their children and families.
“I also connected with Rachel’s special education teachers regularly. I always let them do their job so I could be Rachel’s mom. I trusted her special education teachers, coaches, and their thoughts on what would benefit Rachel. That way, I was mom.
Try to remember, and this is a hard one when times get tough, our kids are always learning, and are capable of learning. They just learn differently, and that is what makes our world go around…right! Don’t sell them short. They will never stop learning on their level.
Help them to be okay with having a disability, and to understand and believe that they are important!
Lastly, practice advocacy skills that relate to real-life situations. This will help your children tell doctors, dentists, teachers, or bus drives—anyone, really–that they need help, or simple steps to understand directions. For example, before Rachel received her first COVID shot, we practiced at home for her to ask for instructions that are short, slow and simple.”