By Lauren Beyer, Rural Institute Project Assistant
Shelley is a 21-year-old young woman who lives in Missoula. She pursues an active life, filled with meaningful relationships, recreation, and a path towards employment.
Shelley was featured as an Emerging Leader a number of years ago when she was a junior in high school. Much has changed since then. She has matured beyond prom queen and water girl for the high school basketball team. She has started her own business. The road to this point has not always been easy, though.
Shelley’s main advocate and cheerleader is her mother, Kelly. When Shelley graduated from Frenchtown High, Kelly reached out to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) to talk about Shelley’s employment future. Instead of receiving encouragement, Kelly was told that her daughter was unemployable. Shelley lives with Down syndrome and brittle diabetes. However, Kelly knows that these conditions should not prevent Shelley from working. Shelley was given a trial position at Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant where she was to clean the tables and mop, but the manager refused to hire her, saying she did not move quickly enough.
Kelly decided to create an employment plan herself. Shelley has always loved soda (especially diet orange), dollar bills, and Cheetos. These are what the family calls the “three loves of life.” Kelly incorporated these passions into Shelley’s plan, running a vending machine business. She then began applying for grants, and she was successful. VR came around and contributed to the venture.
Today, Shelley owns and operates two vending machines in town, and she has plans to expand. If you live in Missoula or ever pass through, make sure to visit Shelley’s machines. One is located at the Radio Central building, and the other is at Missoula’s Child Development Center. She hopes to have three machines soon at Missoula Developmental Services Corporation, MDSC. She also operates a system of honor boxes, where people are trusted to pay for their snacks. Follow her business on Facebook at Shelley’s Sodas and Snacks.
Shelley’s duties include shopping for the snacks and sodas, stocking the machines, and collecting the money from the machines. Kelly is confident that the business will return a profit. Shelley’s business is one of many ways in which Kelly encourages her daughter to meet high expectations. She does not allow Shelley to lounge about the house and rot in front of the television. Shelley is expected to help with housework – she keeps her room clean, vacuums, does the dishes, and helps Kelly cook. Kelly holds the same expectations of all her children when they are home. Everyone carries their weight. She knows Shelley is capable of meeting the bar, at whatever height it is set. If expectations are lowered, Shelley, and anyone for that matter, will stoop and grow lazy. Kelly guides her daughter with the attitude of “keep the bar high, she can meet it.”
Shelley stays busy through weekly horseback riding, activities at Summit Independent Living Center, and as a member of People First, an advocacy group whose members lobby legislators on matters which impact people with disabilities. While Kelly works at Missoula’s Child Development Center, a respite worker spends the days with Shelley. This help is funded through DDP, the Developmental Disabilities Program. They also provide funding for Shelley’s horseback riding classes and adaptive equipment like a shower chair and bike. Kelly is eternally grateful to this program. She says she would not be able to work without their services.
Shelley and Kelly share a bond familiar to many of us and our mothers. They agree on which actors are hot; the main actor in “Hidalgo” is the current household favorite. They enjoy trying new restaurants, although Shelley’s favorite meal is the shrimp and mashed potatoes at Perkins. Kelly is a strong and involved advocate for her daughter. She strikes a fair balance between caretaker, drill sergeant, and cheerleader, qualities I recognize in my own mother. Kelly will not accept “no” or “she can’t.” However, she is also realistic. She notices where Shelley is lacking. Right now, she is hoping for more peer interaction for Shelley. She is overjoyed with all the positive influences in Shelley’s life, but she would like to see more social interaction with young people. She is even encouraging Shelley to wet her feet in the dating world. She went to a dance on Valentine’s Day with a young man. He and Shelley ate together at a table while their mothers ate across the restaurant.
I am confident that Shelley’s light spirit and cheery nature will earn her some great friends and a gentleman that deserves her. Shelley and Kelly have dreams, and together, they make a pretty impressive team.