“I feel useless. Good for nothing…” my Mom says. I recount back to her the ways she gives to our family and for a moment, she feels like a contributor. Before I leave, Mom pushes a ten dollar bill into my hand. “Here, give this to Nick. He can buy himself a treat.” "Thanks, Ma", I say, "I know he'll appreciate it."
At Nick’s place, he’s working on putting the finishing touches on a resume with Tom, his helper. Nicholas wants a job at the local hockey arena, or perhaps reviewing Playstation games from the perspective of a person with disabilities. Nick has lots of ideas for part-time employment.
It’s very tricky finding ways for seniors or people with severe disabilities to have real meaning and purpose in their lives. Fulfilling care needs takes time, so only slivers of the day are free for work. Some days, illness or pain gets in the way of the ability to focus on contributing to a cause or carrying on a job search.
I’m always on the lookout for innovative ways that caregivers or other innovators have found to enable purpose in the lives of those with high care needs. I’ve blogged before on this complicated topic. In that post, I described this wonderful online program matching residents of a Chicago seniors’ home with English language students in Brazil. Seniors perform the valuable service of chatting with language students who otherwise would never have the chance to converse with a native English speaker.
Last week, I struck up a conversation with a new friend. He told me that in his home of Ridgefield, Connecticut, The Prospector Movie Theater provides opportunities for training and employment of people with disabilities.
It's the only cinema in town and because it runs new release films, it's a highly successful business model. I was intrigued. Here's what the website says about the theater:
The Prospector Theater is a new model of social enterprise. It pairs a first-run, commercial movie theater with the mission of training and employing adults with disabilities. It's a not-for-profit system, with the competitiveness and transparency of a for-profit business model. It shows how community groups, businesses, and people in the private sector – working together – can improve the quality of lives for those with disabilities, while lessening the financial burden on the government and helping boost employment rates.
And here's how the company describes its employees:
Our employees, known as Prospects, live a higher quality of life through meaningful employment, and are encouraged to sparkle, shine, and turn their passions into professions.
The Prospects – trained and employed by the Prospector Theater – drive positive change in the behavior and perception of the capability and employability of people with disabilities, opening the doors to large-scale increased meaningful employment outcomes in every business setting. Through pairing Prospects with an appropriate and fitting job, we can ensure that we are developing Prospects’ sparkle, while equipping that individual with the transferrable job skills needed to jump-start their career. If you give a man a fish, he can feed himself for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.
Over the years, I've come to believe that it's not happiness we crave - it's meaning and purpose. In order to feel we're experiencing a rich and full life, we all need to give to a cause outside of ourselves - something that contributes to the greater good. It's a tricky challenge to achieve this for frail elders and for people with disabilities, but it's not impossible. I'm inspired by these innovative models of contribution and I hope you are, too.