“It makes your heart really warm,” said Cindy Heimann, a member of Washington Elks Lodge 1559 about a Halloween dance members hosted last October for clients of Developmental Services of Franklin County (DSFC).
Developmental Services is a nonprofit agency formed under legislation passed in 1987 and uses funds from a county tax to provide services for persons with developmental disabilities, conditions like mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism or a similar condition diagnosed before age 22.
The Washington Elks had wanted to do something nice for people with developmental disabilities, said Heimann, noting the group has a couple of members with special needs.
“They bring a smile to my face and to others’ all the time,” she said. “There’s not much in the community just for them, so we thought it would be great to do something, to start giving back.”
The dance went over “phenomenally,” with about 180 Developmental Services clients, family members, DSFC staff and volunteers attending. In fact, the dance was so successful that the Elks Lodge in St. Clair was inspired to hold a dance too, a hoedown, and both Elks groups are planning more events for Developmental Services clients in the future, possibly a prom and a game night, said Heimann.
That kind of generosity isn’t seen every day, said Dr. Ron Kruse, DSFC executive director. It takes heart.
That’s why earlier this year Developmental Services presented the Washington Elks with the Tin Man Award, a honor created in 2003 to recognize people or groups who go above and beyond for someone with developmental disabilities.
Named after the character from “The Wizard of Oz,” the Tin Man Award is all about honoring people for an act of kindness toward someone with a developmental disability, said Kruse.
“The Tin Man didn’t have a heart — well actually, he did. He just wasn’t recognized,” Kruse said. “So what we have is something to recognize people so they realize just how nice they are.”
For many years the Tin Man was an internal award presented mostly to DSFC staff and volunteers, but in recent years the agency has been presenting it to people, groups and businesses in the community.
It’s simply a way to show gratitude and offer recognition where it is deserved, said Kruse.
“What we want to do is have our folks, clients, participate in the community like anyone else, to be welcomed and have those opportunities,” he said.
“Historically, people with developmental disabilities or anyone with a disability, it has been a struggle for decades and decades, and I think it’s really gotten better. I’ve been in the field 37 years, and it’s better now than 37 years ago.
“People are much more accepting and we have examples here of folks doing really, really nice things to make others’ lives better.”
One of the first people outside of DSFC to receive the Tin Man Award was Dr. Leo Burke of Osage Dental Group in Pacific. A DSFC client had gone to Dr. Burke as a patient and with his gentle approach and understanding manner, she was finally able to have her teeth checked without needing to be sedated.
“He was very calm with her, worked with her and got her to open up her mouth, whereas previously she would have had to go with the gas to knock her out,” said Kruse.
Dentistry is often a challenge for many clients at Developmental Services, but Dr. Burke puts them all at ease.
“He just has a real ability to relax people, to get them to relate . . . so they realize he’s not threatening to them,” said Kruse.
Dr. Burke, who credits two of his staff, Carol Boyd and Tammy Thorpe, with making the experience a pleasant one for anyone with developmental disabilities, said their patient and caring approach is a way to pay it forward.
“And they are always so appreciative,” said Dr. Burke. “It’s a joy to work with them.”
Just a Few Examples
Boy Scout Troop 449 in St. Clair, which has helped DSFC numerous times over the last several years with its disability awareness fairs and other events, was presented with the Tin Man Award in June.
The Scouts have provided food, strong arms, smiles and umbrellas when it rains. They have designed and provided games, and “their efforts contribute to the success of DSFC’s community events,” the form nominating the Scouts for the Tin Man Award reads.
Scoutmaster Billy Guyton said the boys, ages 12 to 17, were excited to receive the Tin Man.
“They were surprised,” he remarked. “They thought it was pretty neat.”
Guyton noted that a few of the boys have had some medical issues, which he thinks make them able to relate well to the DSFC clients.
In April 2012, the Tin Man Award was presented to Nathan and Christine Duncan and Mark Brauninger, manager of Orscheln’s Farm and Home, for providing five national weather service radios for area group homes where DSFC clients live. Orscheln donated half the cost of the radios, and the Duncans paid the other half.
The Duncans have an 11-year-old son who has developmental disabilities and after one stormy evening, a casual conversation started them thinking about how helpful one of these types of radios would be.
“An alarm sounds to let you know if a warning or something has been issued,” said Christine Duncan. “And you can program it for your specific area.”
The couple never expected to be recognized for doing this good deed, but they are extremely proud that they were. They’ve hung their Tin Man Award certificate in a frame by their computer.
Two businesses, ATRO Engineered Systems and ACE Manufacturing and Parts Co., along with the Sullivan Chamber of Commerce were presented with the Tin Man Award last year for hosting the First Annual Sullivan Country Festival, which helped raise awareness of developmental disabilities and also raised money for a wheelchair-accessible swing.
Mr. Hanny, a speech therapist with Sullivan Sports, Fitness & Rehab, was given the Tin Man Award last December for his effort in helping a DSFC client with cerebral palsy obtain a communications device that speaks for her.
“It really opened up possibilities, calmed her down so that she was able to communicate so she didn’t get frustrated trying to say something that people didn’t understand,” said Kruse. “It just made her much more able to go into the community and be part of it, have friends . . . ”
Mr. Hanny was able to speed up the process of getting the device approved, ordered and working for the client.
Bob Cook, a driver for Mid-American Coaches, has been a primary driver for DSFC’s recreation program for five years. Last September, he went above and beyond his duty when one client’s luggage, including his medication, was lost, and Cook took him to the pharmacy; and when another client and her mother found out on the trip that their father/husband had had a heart attack and was in the hospital, Cook re-routed the trip so he could personally ensure they arrived at the hospital as soon as possible.
That kind of compassion shows heart, and is why Cook was given a Tin Man Award in January.
“We work with the bus company, we pay them for doing that, but when the driver goes out of his way to make sure people are taken care of, the situation was very stressful . . . then people are just doing that out of the goodness of their heart,” said Kruse.
That deserves recognition.
Since 2003, Developmental Services has presented more than 100 Tin Man Awards. Many are people and groups that have been nominated by someone within the agency or the community.
The DSFC board holds a meeting to decide if the Tin Man is warranted, and it almost always is, said Kruse.
“People really make good nominations,” he remarked.
There is no set criteria for earning the Tin Man Award, said Kruse. “You know it when you see it.”
A nomination can be for a one-time gesture or event or for something ongoing.
There also is no set number of Tin Man Awards that can be presented or a time of year that they are limited. The Tin Man is presented as needed.
“We can go several months without giving any, and we can give out a bunch all at once,” said Kruse. “It’s not a contest.”
To nominate a person, group or business for the Tin Man Award, people can call Developmental Services at 636-583-5801.
In addition to recognizing people for their good deeds for people with developmental disabilities, Kruse said another goal of the Tin Man Award is that shining a light on the actions of some people may inspire others to do something similar, or just to go out of their way just to be kinder, gentler and more understanding whenever they come in contact with people with disabilities.
‘They Just Kind of Glow’
Kruse said he wishes everyone could see the looks on peoples’ faces when they receive the Tin Man Award.
“They just kind of glow,” he said.
It makes people feel good to be recognized. That is never why people make the gestures or organize the events that earn them the Tin Man, said Kruse, “but it sure makes them smile to see that people appreciate their effort, that they are doing something really, really nice for someone.
“People really do want to do good things for other people,” he added. “They do recognize that our clients have limitations, they really need some extra help. And I think people should be recognized more for these things.”