Through work, Inspiration Ministries residents retain their independence

To inspire: To affect, guide, motivate or stimulate to action.

by Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Jan. 4, 2007, 5:00 p.m.)

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By definition, Inspiration Ministries, just west of Williams Bay at the intersection of highways F and 67, is the perfect name for the place formed to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

It is an ideal place to live for those who have physical disabilities that make living on their own impossible.

The key to retaining independence however, is having a job and being able to work-something that Inspiration Ministries provides for many of its residents.

Leigh Kranz, 35, originally of Wind Lake, suffers from spina bifida and has been living at Inspiration Ministries for two years.

"I was living at home with Mom and Dad," she said. "I knew I could be independent, but I was kind of afraid to be out in the community alone."

Kranz's biggest concern about moving out of her parents' house was employment.

"I knew I would need to work to pay the bills," she said. "So the fact that there was actually work on the premises was a really big plus.

Since her arrival, Kranz has advanced to the position of assistant to the director of employee services, and she credits the opportunities at Inspiration Ministries for personal and professional growth.

Additionally, Kranz serves as a member of the Resident Council and is the resident representative on the Inspiration Ministries Board of Directors.

"I came here very shy now I'm doing things I never thought I'd do," she said.

"Now I'm on my own. I have a job. I support myself. I have my own place to live. I have my independence. I have confidence in myself."

"People who come here often come from lives that are pretty isolating," said Erik Barber, Inspiration Ministries vice president of development. "They live with their families, which sounds like a great thing, but many times it's not because families want to protect their kids. They don't want to let them out into a world that might hurt them or beat them down, so they end up being very isolated.

"Or they can live in other institutions like nursing homes or government-run situations that are really not ideal-they're not homey places like we have here."

"I can be my own person here," Kranz continued. "I have my independence, I have my own place instead of living with someone else and under their rules."

There are three levels of residences at Inspiration Ministries: independent living apartments, comfortable units with hardwood floors, a bedroom, bathroom and full kitchen; assisted living apartments similar to the independent living units, but smaller, with kitchenettes; and community-based residential units that are dorm-type of rooms.

Major renovations that began eight years ago use a farmhouse layout style-with hallways bending every so often to take away from the institutional feeling of long straight halls lined with doors. Enclaves and small dining areas dot the path for gathering, relaxing or dining in a more private setting than the large dining room.

Residents have primarily physical disabilities as opposed to cognitive disabilities, Barber said. It is not a nursing home, as they do not provide skilled nursing care.

Aside from the homelike atmosphere, meal preparation assistance, events, companionship and oodles of other perks Inspiration Ministries offers its residents, the on-site employment opportunities are paramount to the quality of life of those who live here.

Because Inspiration Ministries is a non-profit independent agency, many insurances and government assistance programs don't cover residents' expenses. So it's up to the individuals to cover their expenses.

With the average stay at 20 years, long-term financial plans are essential.

About half of the residents who can work do so in housekeeping, food services and assisting other residents. But there aren't enough of those positions to employ all who need them.

That's why the workshop is so very important to keeping Inspiration Ministries up and running, both financially and emotionally, for those who live there.

Margaret Speiker moved to Inspiration Ministries last August after living on her own for 35 years.

"She really didn't want to come here from her apartment," said Tim Schnake, vice president of residential services. "But her family wanted to make sure she was somewhere where all of her needs were met."

"I worked at a travel agency in Chicago for 20 years," Speiker said. "Then I worked in a workshop in Morton Grove (Ill.), sort of like this one. I like it here and I like working here."

In the workshop at Inspiration Ministries, workers perform light packaging, assembly work, mailings, soldering, jigging and are open to try anything new. They contract jobs from as far away as Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as several local companies.

"(Working) makes a big difference in our lives," Kranz says. "It allows us to be regular people, to do something with our lives and feel good about ourselves-and pay our bills."

On this day workers were putting lock tights on T-bolts and pre-folding instruction sheets for Pentair, of Delavan. Thousands of units were piled high and covering the tabletops in two large rooms.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Just like in the outside world, lack of work sometimes brings the workshop to a halt.

"It's pretty often that we don't have enough work to keep our residents busy," said Wayne Rohde, director of employee services.

"When we're not working, that's all people ask about," Kranz said "'When will we be working again?' 'Is there any work coming?'"

"People are designed that way," Schnake added. "We want to do something with our lives, and people with disabilities are no different."

"We're really trying to diversify," Rohde added. "We could definitely handle a higher volume and could easily take several more clients."

Anyone or business is encouraged to call Rohde for more information about production, distribution or product transportation possibilities at 275-6131, or visit www.InspirationMinistries.org.

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