It was a recent Friday around noon when my husband and I pulled into the parking lot of the Town and Country Café. We parked next to a small bus that is used for Social Services recipients, and I thought nothing of it until we entered the café and sat in a booth across from the back room that is reserved for large groups and gatherings.
There were only two waitresses, and apparently one was assigned to the room. She was scurrying back and forth from the kitchen to the room carrying a tray of desserts.
It was apparent that there were several individuals with handicaps who were in wheelchairs and were assisted by helpers.
Not until the group was finished and they were lining up to pay for their ill meals did I notice that the entire group consisted of young people (from about late teens to perhaps late twenties) with developmental disabilities. Some obviously had Mongoloid features, others had slow speech patterns and difficulty walking.
Scattered throughout were caretakers and supervisors with T-shirts that had some sort of logo.
I watched as each individual went to the register and asked how much their bill had come to, then reaching into a wallet or purse, and handed the waitress the money. When change was given, some gave her a tip there, while others went back to the table to leave a tip.
Several of the other patrons appeared to know some of the young people, and an older couple at a nearby table talked to one or two of them, teasing about paying their bill too, or talked about the latest Razerback game. I wondered if the couple was related to any of the individuals in the group, but I didn't ask, I simply watched and listened.
I was pleased with what I saw. I know how hard it is on families with children who have disabilities (a dear friend of mine raised an adopted child who needed a lot of time and energy because of developmental disabilities.) As children get older, they need a sheltered workshop or daycare that doesn't just give them something to do, but teaches them skills that they will need in the world.
Paying for your own lunch and keeping track of your money may not sound like much, but it gives a thread of independence and self-reliance and a sense that you can do things like anybody else.
The individuals in this group may always need to have someone to look out for them because they are often trusting and vulnerable, but I was proud to see that in such a small community there were plans for those who needed some help in the world.
We're really not so different, after all--we all need a little help every now and then.