Sitting in a clean and bright room, Jonathan meticulously moved the yellow magic marker. He sat hunched close to the table in order to more carefully observe the imprints that spread over the picture of 4th of July fireworks. Like most artists, Jonathan studied each line and mark as he made it. After a few moments, Jonathan lifted his large frame to greet us with his steel eyes and expression-filled face. Yet, he never stopped his art work. He carefully stayed within the lines, making the colors smooth and sleek, no easy task with magic markers on plain paper.
As we walked into his room, her staff smiled while Renee Subee greeted Jonathan before she spoke to the paid personnel. This simple gesture by Ms. Subee, the manager of The Arc in Wahiawa, Hawaii, spoke volumes to me about the quality of care and attention given to the individuals who receive services at this sheltered workshop. The Arc is the nation’s leading support center in the US, providing many services to individuals who are intellectually or developmentally disabled in cities all over the US. There are three Arc centers on the island of Oahu.
Renee–you feel comfortable calling her by her first name–showed us each room where people with intellectual disabilities are trained. Every room had a fish tank inhabited by at least one bright yellow fish. With the intensity of a hungry feline, Debbie stared at the fish swimming until we entered her room; and then her attention was drawn to her legs. Shy and self-conscious, Debbie only caught quick glimpses of us.
Community inclusion is more than a buzz word for this small group of folks. Each morning, the ingredients for Meals on Wheels are delivered to the workshop. The individuals assemble the lunches and then deliver them into the surrounding homes. “It is such an important part of our out reach,” said Renee. “Our consumers go into the homes of the elderly and distribute the meals. It helps everyone. The consumers love it and so do the men and women receiving the meals.” Explaining the purpose of their thrift shop, she said, “We keep the cost of our merchandise very low so that we can give back to our neighbors. This community is very important to us.”
The location of the Wahiawa Arc isn’t the most desirable section of town. However, you wouldn’t know it from the pride Renee and her staff take in their location. “We are in the perfect spot,” she bragged.
Reluctant to leave, I felt that I’d known Renee and her small community for years. But Renee’s day isn’t over when the last consumer is loaded on a HandiVan and leaves the parking lot. Ms. Subee is more than the Wahiawa ADH Manager, she is also the independent living coach for about 10 people who live in the upstairs apartments of the two-story building. “I’m on call 24 hours a day. Our residents are independent; therefore, I’m here for questions and emergencies.”
It was apparent that Renee Subee and her staff enjoy the amazing wonder of the unique people they serve. Her humor and joy permeate every inch of the facility. I, too, left smiling and happy that there can be such joy in working within our community, especially in Paradise.