Learning life skills
Della Nelson practices tying fishing knots at a picnic for students of personal living skills classes last week in Missoula. The classes help people with developmental disabilities learn to be more self-sufficient. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Class puts people with developmental disabilities on a path to self-sufficiency

When people with developmental disabilities finish regular schooling in Missoula, they often have no established programs to help them work on life skills or participate in social activities.

But a program offered this year through the adult education center at Willard School is working to fill those voids.

For the first time this year, the center offered three, 10-week sessions of personal living skills classes that catered to the needs and interests of the 20 people who participated in the sessions. Subjects covered included nutrition and cooking, money management, personal and career development, basic academics, computer skills and community involvement.

"Some can read, some can't. That's not an important issue," said Grace Hutchings, who taught the classes.

The main idea is to help people with developmental disabilities learn different things they need to know to live on their own or in a group home and to be more self-sufficient.

"This is an educational resource but it also provides socialization with peers and connections with the community," Hutchings added.

Della Nelson wanted to learn to swim. Hutchings set up classes through the YMCA for the 68-year-old woman.

Robert Vallance's interest lies in reading and computers. The 69-year-old man worked one-on-one with Angie Reid, a recent Loyola graduate, on his reading abilities twice during the week. On Fridays, he attended the special session classes and used his new reading abilities while learning about computers.

"I should have stayed in school," Vallance said Friday during a year-ending picnic for the students at McCormick Park.

Vallance can write only his name right now. But he can teach one of his hobbies: leatherworking. He did that a week ago, showing some of his classmates how to make a key chain.

"It was my first time. That's my hobby," he said.

Holly Herndon, 21, is not into leather.

"I'm not a leather kind of person," she said after taking Vallance's class.

She is, however, a choir-type of person. "It's the best. I love to sing," she said.

Holly and a couple other of the participants also sing in the Very Special Arts Montana Choir.

Holly was also interested in the nutrition and cooking portion of the session. The session participants went to a grocery store, compared prices of various items, bought some of them and then went back to Willard and prepared a meal.

She liked the buying but, wasn't too keen on the cooking.

"Anytime she wants to try (cooking, she can)," Holly's mother, Joyce said. "We'll try to get her more involved. In the future, we'll find recipes that she can cook in the microwave and (later) graduate to the stove."

"I think this is something the community dearly needs," Joyce said. "Once the kids are out of high school, a lot of them either are on lists waiting for jobs or other opportunities. This is a nice transitional (program) where they learn different things they need if they are going to live on their own or in a group home to be more self-sufficient."

Class members traveled to different spots every other week.

"We don't go somewhere just to go somewhere," Hutchings said.

Riding buses helped the participants learn about public transportation and about correct change. A visit to the library or a bank or even Habitat for Humanity offered new ideas to the members.

"It's proven to be a worthwhile program," Hutchings said. "It's filled a big need for a lot of these adults.

Hutchings has applied for another grant through the Developmental Disabilities Planning and Advisory Council to continue the program next year. The council is under the direction of Missoula County Public Schools Adult Basic Education division.

If Hutchings is successful, students like Holly may participate again.

"I like to do that stuff," she said.

Monday - 6/14/99

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