The Big Success Story
LaFayette, Georgia (Senate District 53)
Timothy Massengill, 23, lives in LaFayette, Georgia. He has autism. Because his dad, Randall, is a United Methodist minister, Timothy’s family has moved around a bit over the course of his life. They’ve been serving this particular area and congregation for a little more than two years.
One day, Randall got a call from a parishioner who suggested that he consider getting Timothy into a program called Project SEARCH. The parishioner’s son is a teacher and thought Timothy would be a good candidate for Project SEARCH. This was a turning point for Timothy and his family. After going through the Project SEARCH job training program, Timothy started his full-time job at Unique Fabricating one year ago. Like so many people with developmental disabilities, that precarious period right after high school nearly left Timothy falling through the cracks. He had been volunteering some through Meals on Wheels, but he was very much underutilized. Timothy says he really likes making his own money now. He also is eligible for benefits through his job. (Story continues below after slideshow.)
Timothy does not have a Medicaid waiver. He has some state funding for supported employment, but that’s pretty much where it starts and stops. He does not receive the other options like residential support or community access he would be eligible for with a Medicaid waiver. Timothy’s parents applied for a waiver years ago but never received it. Becky Clark with Kaleidescope, a program of Lookout Mountain Community Services that promotes independent living and supportive services to people with disabilities, chimes in. She explains that, because Timothy does not have a waiver, she has helped the family make an application for Family Support Services through her agency. “That’s a way for them to get some additional funding for things they might need, anything their insurance wouldn’t take care of. It can be used for community access. It would even pay for therapies.” Becky goes on to say that they have finished that application, and it’s in process now.
Thanks to graduating from Project SEARCH, Timothy’s job now is working on the Unique Fabricating manufacturing line. He gets up at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday to get ready for his job. Timothy has a job coach, Miss Kathy, who comes to check in on him at least twice a month to see how he’s doing and if any negotiation between him and his employer needs to take place. Timothy is one of several people with disabilities who works at the plant. They initially thought Timothy would need a lot of support, but it turns out that he is so successful, making very few mistakes and having no behavior issues, he needs relatively little intervention. At this point, he’s helping to train new employees.
If given the chance to speak to a government representative, Timothy would say, “My life is great.” Randall says he would like to tell legislators that they should “pay attention to the least, the less and the lost because they are not there for those who can take care of themselves, but for those who cannot.” Randall hopes that his government officials will remember “they are a servant to the public and should help to give voice to those who have no voice.” At the same time, Randall says that whatever Timothy wants, he and his family first try to make that happen for Timothy. They try not to depend on anyone because they were raised that way.
Mary adds her thoughts on what she would say to her elected officials: “Better communication!” she says. “Don’t just assume that everybody knows what to do. We’re all just out here asking other parents. A lot of these services, we had no idea Timothy was eligible for because it’s not written somewhere where everybody can read it.” To that end, Mary feels really frustrated that, even though Timothy was first diagnosed with autism at three years old, they were told by the wrong people that Timothy could not get social security. He was also denied paraprofessional help at school, even though they’d been told he should have one. Someone told them to get a lawyer to fight the school, but because of their position in the community, they felt powerless to do so. Randall would say to his legislators that they should find a way for students who need these services in rural areas to have them without making it a legal battle.
Indeed, this peaceful family does not want to have to fight to get Timothy the services and funding he needs, today or ever. The work week is over for Timothy. His favorite food, pizza, is in the oven. Now Timothy can just relax and enjoy the weekend.
Writer: Shannon Turner, Photographer: Haylee Fucini-Lenkey