Chrestomathy participant experiences 'victory' in returning to Burnsville program

Chrestomathy, a MOHR member based in Eden Prairie, was able to symbolically open its doors again on June 4 for just a few participants. They’re allowed up to 180 minutes of day training and habilitation services per day.

Karen is one of the outspoken individuals who relies on Chrestomathy’s services to help her maintain an even keel. “That can sometimes be difficult on a good day, let alone a difficult day,” said Program Director Chris Pritchard. “She knows that she does have a voice, choices, and can control her own life.”

Karen was grief stricken on May 11 when the nonprofit had to tell her she would need to stay home. Chrestomathy had to sort out the sudden closure order from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which had abruptly cut off her services. Karen has faced many challenges over her lifetime and is finally gaining some tenuous balance, Pritchard explained.

Highly connected

As she processed the news and dealt with her feelings of devastation, she stopped by the Burnsville program site with her home staff on May 12, as though to be sure the building was still standing. Pritchard was there to talk with and reassure her.

Karen understood she could not come into the program. She was not happy, but as part of maintaining her composure, checked on some seedlings that she had planted and had been carefully nurturing. She choked up as she asked Chris to take good care of them for her. Then, she announced emphatically that as soon as Chrestomathy’s doors were open again, she wanted to be the first participant to rush into the building. “We made that dream happen yesterday,” said Pritchard. “Look at her photo and the look of victory in her eyes!”

Highly active

Chrestomathy participants do not come into the building and sit for up to six hours per day, the director explains. They engage in therapeutic activities and have exposure to a wide array of activities as they explore what a healthy lifestyle means for them. They work on emotional regulation skills often in the midst of gardening, going for a walk, working on art projects, as well as learning about varied topics of interest.

Chrestomathy’s underlying emphasis on values and the emphasis of “useful learning” (the basis of its name) is the mechanism behind empowerment and is life changing.

Pritchard said Karen stepped up her game in March and was proudly working five days a week at her job for as many hours as she could. She was an essential worker for a number of weeks during the pandemic.

Furloughed from her job, she needs to stay busy

Karen understands social distancing, wearing a mask, and disinfection procedures. She demonstrated all of this expertly for her community job. Unfortunately, her employer had to cut back, and Karen was furloughed, like most of the Chrestomathy participants who had community jobs, the director said.

It is a devastating loss for all. Karen still is holding out hope that she may be called back but she cannot spend her time without something to do or a way to stay engaged in positive activities. Pritchard said she needs her therapeutic supports which also include her friends at Chrestomathy, and similarly they need her.

She has wisdom to share. Karen is able to also tap into some of the employment services Chrestomathy is able to provide as she searches for a new job. But this is not enough as she reels emotionally, trying to make sense of all that is happening around her.

Not everyone can come back

Karen and a few others are fortunate that they can come back for limited services. Many others who desperately want to resume services do not fit the prescribed categories even though their guardians and Chrestomathy believe it would be safe, said Pritchard. “Even so, they cannot come back yet for weeks . . . or for all we know, indefinitely,” he said.

Chrestomathy’s financial crisis has not been solved. Will the organization be around? Will leaders choose to dedicate their lives to a mission and not receive the resources they need to fulfill it?

Service times limited

Pritchard said they also don’t want to lose sight that while they have been able to open their doors, they can only provide 180 minutes of services billed through their DTH license instead of a normal six hour day.

“We all know what it means to ‘do a 180,’ so resumption of services for up to 180 minutes is a symbolic start.” Chrestomathy is providing essential services that give participants meaning, purpose, and direction in their lives and rationed services will not be enough, the director said.

Participants, like Karen, are appreciative, but they have more dreams to pursue and more needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, there are many others who rely on these essential services who do not have a voice right now and may not be able to express their choices, he said. “It seems that once again we have a forgotten population trapped behind locked doors.”