Tommy Morris' Success Story

July 17th, 2019

My goal was to find Tommy a welcoming environment that would focus on his ABILITIES, not his disability." 

–James Morris, father of Tommy Morris

When Tommy was one year old, behaviors arose that indicated he may have some developmental delays. Tommy’s father, James, sought advice from health care professionals who diagnosed Tommy with a pervasive developmental delay and hyperactivity. 

A diagnosis of hyperactivity carried negative connotations during the 1960s. As a child, Tommy would accidentally break windows, causing his father to be concerned about potential safety hazards. James began to actively search for an inclusive and safe environment that would provide Tommy the necessary supports to excel in life. His search led him to find Orange Grove’s Double G summer camp. 

Double G camp provided the perfect opportunity for fourteen-year-old Tommy to channel his energy in positive, fun activities like swimming, arts and crafts, and sports that highlighted his exceptionally creative and bubbly personality. For the first time, Tommy was able to make friends who loved him for his unique abilities. His extravagant energy, which had previously prevented him from being actively engaged in the community, became a tool that helped him become a leader and the extraordinary individual he is today.

I brought him to camp expecting for him to make friends, but we ended up with family,” 

says James.

Tommy has been a part of the Orange Grove family ever since. He is known around Orange Grove as the “King of Camp” and even has the honor of giving the welcoming and closing speeches for camp each year.

While Tommy still enjoys camp, he also participates in other services that Orange Grove has to offer. After his first year of camp, he enrolled in the Children’s Services program, then moved into the Residential program and joined the Employment/Community Support programs. The Residential program provides 24-hour residential services in  a group-home setting. Each house supports up to four individuals in Orange Grove homes with a house manager and support staff as needed. 

Through the Employment/Community Support programs, Tommy learned how to use his skills to thrive in employment and everyday life. He now works at a recycling drop off center in Chattanooga and much enjoys his role. Tommy’s outgoing demeanor is an asset to him as he advises visitors on what products the center accepts and what needs to be taken to the refuse collection center. “He is very proud of the work he does. When he gets home, he loves to talk to his support staff and housemates about everything that happened during his shift,” says Tommy’s house manager, Kayla Bowlby.

His work ethic has carried over into his daily life. When he is not working, he keeps himself busy by sweeping his neighbors’ porches, raking leaves, and taking their trash to the curb. “When I first moved next door to Tommy’s group home, I woke up week after week on recycling day to find my recycling bin already by the curb,” recalls Tommy’s former neighbor, Dave Lang. “At first, I thought I was forgetting that I had completed this chore the night before. When I discovered that it was Tommy who weekly assists the neighborhood on recycling day, I fell in love with Orange Grove and the individuals they serve.”

James credits Orange Grove for Tommy’s success by providing him the opportunity to explore his unique abilities in a comfortable environment. 

“Tommy would not be where he is today 

without Orange Grove,” James says through 
tears of gratitude.
“Orange Grove is his family, home, and source of happiness.”

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When Robbie Matthews was born, the doctor’s first words to his family were, “He will spend his life as a vegetable and should be put into an institution until he passes away.”

During birth, Robbie suffered from meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS). MAS a serious condition in which a newborn breathes a mixture of meconium (first feces or stool) and amniotic fluid into the lungs around the time of delivery. It is a leading cause of severe illness and death in a newborn. 

Despite Robbie’s prognosis of permanent brain damage, being unable to walk or speak, and a life expectancy of only four years, Robbie’s family made the decision to ignore the doctor’s recommendation of institutionalization. Instead, the Matthews family decided to live every moment as if Robbie had a long life ahead of him. “I just wanted him to know who we were and to live a life full of love,” says Sharon Matthews, Robbie’s mother. Robbie is now 39 and thriving.

Nonverbal doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say. It means that you will need to listen to me with more than just your ears.

by Anonymous

Even from an early age, it was evident that Robbie, despite being nonverbal, functioned well cognitively. “He is a big flirt and has a jovial personality,” says Sharon laughingly recalling the small yet significant moments that indicated Robbie was well aware of his surroundings. “We do not know what he is thinking because he cannot speak, but with a simple look, he can clearly express his feelings.” Toddler-aged Robbie would flash a smile and look of admiration to women, convey frustration with a simple glance when he was woken up early, and be the first person in the room to laugh at jokes. 

Robbie loves his freedom and having his own space. He enjoys going on adventures, especially to the aquarium and to his grandmother’s lakeside home. His hobbies include going to the movies, bowling, swimming, and playing softball with the Dream League.

Orange Grove quickly became a second family to Robbie and his family. Robbie first came to Orange Grove at five years old to participate in the children’s services academic program. He earned his high school diploma at the age of 22. After graduation, Robbie entered Orange Grove’s Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF) adult program. The ICF department provides comprehensive and individualized health care and rehabilitation services - “active treatment” - with the goal of helping each individual maintain as much independence as possible. Typically, individuals served through ICF have the highest care needs and have 24/7/365 staffing, with nursing care available around the clock.

Sharon credits the stimulation Orange Grove’s person-centered programs provide for how well Robbie is doing today. “They knew so much that I would’ve never discovered on my own. They taught our family the best way to position equipment, best treatment practices, and have walked alongside us as we have tackled life’s many challenges,” Sharon states. 

When a rare opportunity arose for Robbie to move into one of Orange Grove’s ICF residential group homes, Sharon faced one of the hardest decisions of her life. However, Robbie’s ear-to-ear grin as he entered his new home was all the proof she needed that he was ready to live an independent life. “It was a bittersweet moment,” says Sharon. “I was terrified of letting him go but overwhelmed with happiness because I never thought he would live long enough to move into a group home.”

Relinquishing total care of a loved one with extensive medical needs yields reasonable fears to anyone. Any of Sharon’s justified fears were alleviated when Orange Grove staff found a personalized solution for Robbie during a medical crisis. Robbie was recovering from back surgery at his group home when his oxygen level became dangerously low. Upon arrival, the emergency medical response team requested an immediate tracheostomy procedure. Determined to prevent further debilitation by trach placement, Orange Grove staff repositioned Robbie with specialized equipment to increase airflow. Orange Grove’s staff expertise, attentiveness, and quick response allowed Robbie’s oxygen level to quickly return to normal and yielded an advantageous long-term outcome. 

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.

by George Bernard Shaw 

Robbie and his family are an inspirational example of making the best of life’s circumstances, no matter how impossible to overcome they may seem. Robbie is a shining star and truly loved by his Orange Grove family.

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Strawberry, chocolate, vanilla... When you walkinto Dairy Queen and Nothing Bundt Cakes in Chattanooga you will find a diversegroup of mouth-watering flavors. Even better, you will find a diverse workplacewhere people of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities work as a teamtoward shared business goals. 

You can’t buy smiles this big, but you can buy ice cream and cake and that’s pretty much the same thing!

Debbie Chadwick and Matthew (Matt) Ossewaarde have both continuously overcome many barriers to success from the moment a doctor gave them a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Refusing to let an extra chromosome define their lives, they alongside their families set out to create their own recipe for sweet success.
Individuals with disabilities, though they are 20% of America’s population, experience unemployment at twice the rate of people without disabilities. Debbie and Matt participate in Orange Grove’s Employment Services Program where the overall goal is to match jobs with every individual who wants to work and both have earned sweet competitive employment jobs in the Chattanooga area. Our job developers and job coaches work hard to ensure the success of both the individual and the employer: the individual by providing necessary supports; the employer by helping them meet their business goals through their employees. Debbie works at Dairy Queen in Hixson and Matt works at Nothing Bundt Cakes in the Hamilton Place area. Both have defied the odds and are exceeding all expectations in their competitive employment positions. 

True competitors, Debbie and Matt participate in sports year-round offering many life lessons transferable to employment like discipline, teamwork, and time management.

Debbie started competing in the Special Olympics at only seven years old. Debbie’s mother, Mary Chadwick, knew she was bound for success when she courageously attempted the high dive for her first time. “My heart was racing as she climbed up the ladder, but I could see the pure determination in her eyes,” recalled Mary. She fearlessly walked straight to the edge of the diving board and, without a second thought, dove straight into the pool!

Matt’s Direct Support Professional, Amail Rizvic, loves watching him thrive in competition. “I will never forget the moment that he taught me that no matter what limitations you either are given or set yourself, with a mind driven to succeed, you can do anything you want,” recalled Amail referring to when he saw Matt play softball for the first time. Due to mobility limitations, Matt bats with one arm and experiences difficulties with running. Despite these limitations, when the time came for him to bat he approached the plate with pure confidence and awaited the pitch. The first pitch was a strike but, unphased, he resumed his stance, and then... BAM! The ball went flying through the air to the outfield while Matt took off and made it to second base. From the stands, Amail and Matt’s parents could see him grinning ear to ear.

Determination, courage, perseverance… Life hands us all a variety of circumstances, or ingredients; what we choose to do with those ingredients shapes our character and makes up the recipe for our lives.  

At Dairy Queen, you can find Debbie using the ingredients of courage and determination to thrive in competitive employment. She takes pride in ensuring a sanitary environment for customers to enjoy their ice cream and has formed strong bonds with her coworkers. Frequent customers look forward to seeing Debbie’s warm smile, and her enthusiastic welcome makes all the difference in their dining experience.

Matt’s perseverance helped land him the job at Nothing Bundt Cakes. Owners Dan and Melinda Mason have been strong supporters of Orange Grove since opening the business and were thrilled to have Matt join their team. Matt has the important task of assembling the box that protects the delicious Bundt cake on its journey from the store to the consumer. Matt loves the independence his job gives him and proudly uses his debit card to make his own purchases.
Whatever the recipe may be for a successful life, Debbie and Matt have discovered it. With more love for a stranger than a kid has for cake, we could all benefit from Debbie and Matt’s recipes for sweet success.

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