Visit by: Ron and Kristie Campbell, June 2013
Cardinal Cushing Centers provides individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disabilities of all ages opportunities to discover the benefits of a supportive and vibrant community.
When we visited, we stayed on campus in the Sisters Inn, a historic house most parents will stay when they visit their children. When we were ready to begin the tour, we learned that the students were responsible for working in the “Inn” as part of a vocational training type of program.
Michelle met us at the Inn and we walked over to and walked us over to the thrift and Cushing Trader where more of the vocational portion of the program takes place. Young adults work in the thrift shop to gain experience working with the public. Between the thrift shop and Cushing Trader was classrooms for the vocational program. Students at Cardinal Cushing make the items available in the shop, and they learn about pricing and running the shop as well. This is of course done under the supervision of staff.
Behind the gift shop, we headed out to the greenhouse where several young adults were in a vocational class and learning about plants and also about current events. We stopped and talked to them for a bit. One was really excited about telling us all about the plants and gardening she was working on. After visiting the greenhouse, we went to the bakery where even more students were working. The intriguing thing to me was how compassionate the staff was to the residents working in the shops. And the students we met all seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. There was something for each level of intellectual development.
We left the vocational portion of the program and headed over to the residential homes. Six to eight students live in comfortable, home-like settings, with supervising staff. Each home has a common living room and a full kitchen for family-style dining. Skills like cooking and laundry are some of the basic life skills taught in residential units. The homes were cozy and felt truly like family homes.
After we visited the homes we headed over to the cafeteria building where several more students were working with culinary skills. The students are hired for these positions as well. The kitchen area was a complete, and very large, industrial kitchen. The students we observed in their positions were engrossed in their tasks and focusing hard on what they were supposed to be doing. As we walked by them and said hello, they stopped long enough to be polite and respond, then returned promptly to their task at hand. One young man stopped a bit longer to update Michelle on his progress, however, and seemed proud of his accomplishments and of Michelle’s praise.
We left this area and headed next over to the school. The school was very impressive, complete with a variety of classes, the number of classrooms, and especially the art room. One group was working on various different art projects. The room was completely packed with paintings, sculptures, projects, and even the room itself was a busy and dynamic work of art. Across the hall, a group of students worked out on musical instruments. The music was full of passion and emotion if nothing else, but it was enjoyable to hear their unorganized production on percussions. The other classes were full of students actively participating in class, who were very excited that our visit had come to interrupt their lessons. They were inquisitive and excited to share what they were learning with us.
The full-sized gymnasium was full of a class working on a dodge ball exercise and their sensory touch/ physical therapy room was very active with students who were struggling in class and needed additional services outside the classroom.
As we walked over to the chapel on campus, Michelle explained the history of the school campus, and also about several students who have jobs out in the community around the school and some actually had been able to move into apartments nearby. She also explained that most students who come to live at Cardinal Cushing Centers are so severe that they will not go home or live independently.
The staff at Cardinal Cushing Centers are a very special type. The students are very high maintenance, though very loving, and so unless the staff loved what they did, they would hit burnout easily. It was obvious to me that each of the staff we saw truly loved what they were doing. The relationships we witnessed were intimate, caring and genuine. After a full morning of touring this campus, it was time to go. We thanked Michelle for a wonderful visit and walked back to our car.