This month's Hometown Hero award goes to Matthew Mitschelen for bringing awareness and education to all about those that are living with and overcoming their disabilities and for being an advocate for all people with disabilities, especially for those at Rainbow Acres. Matthew is a great example for everyone that everyday life for those who live with a disability is not much different than for those who do not.
I had the great pleasure of meeting with Matthew last month to get a better understanding about life at Rainbow Acres and knew immediately that he was an amazing young man that has a lot to offer our community.
Matthew is 40 years old and has been residing at Rainbow Acres as one of their "Ranchers" for the past 15 years. Just like all of the other Ranchers at Rainbow Acres, he has a job. Mathew takes great pride in his job where he works in the kitchen and dining room doing dishes, sweeping, setting up tables and mopping, along with other related duties.
It is very important to him that what he does on a daily basis is just as nice as when he is setting up for a big event for the public when it is very important that everything be perfect. After all, he has been doing this job for 11 years and he never seems to tire of it.
He says he likes the social aspect of meeting people, especially with the people that work in the kitchen. With a huge smile on his face, he said, "I love my job!"
Arizona has not always been Matthew's home. Prior to living in Arizona, he lived in Columbia City, Michigan where he worked with other people with Down Syndrome like himself. While living in a group home there, he had a tutor and guardian who left a huge impact on his life.
Matthew remembers that Mr. Brown taught him how to read and write for which he is very grateful. Today, Matthew enjoys reading and writing and has written several articles that have been published.
Matthew shared with me that his dream is to become a Journalist because he likes to write so much and it is a great joy for him. Matthew enjoys writing about people that are "gifted with disabilities". He loves to read the newspaper and even has written an article for the Camp Verde Bugle. Although Matthew completed school at the age of 15 years old (6th grade), he has taken some courses at Yavapai College.
Matthew tells me that he prides himself on being an advocate for people that have disabilities and likes to advocate for their rights. "People that go to school, do cooking and have feelings, also have rights!"
Matthew loves to cook and enjoys watching cooking shows. He has also participated in the Special Olympics and has won several medals for basketball, baseball, golf and Bocce. He also likes bowling and has earned a special medal for that as well.
Sandy Koonce is one of the Caregivers at the Baldwin House where Matthew and other Ranchers reside at Rainbow Acres. Sandy is Rainbow Acres' Special Olympics Coach. They have participated in state basketball competitions.
This year they combined with the Verde Valley Special Olympics group, making a team of 50 members. This year's events were held at the Sporting Chance Center and the University of Arizona in Tucson. Local athletes have been participating in these events over the last 12 years. Last year they went to New Jersey for the National Golf Games and came home with a Gold Medal!
I asked Matthew, as an advocate for people with disabilities, if there was a special message he wanted to share with our community and this was his statement: "Don't give up on your child! Before I was a kid, my parents were in high school. When I was born my parents gave me up because of my disability. I believe everyone is entitled to a good education and respect. As an advocate for people with disabilities like myself, I like to receive 'fan mail' for participating in the Special Olympics and for all the people that live at Rainbow Acres. I like talking with others that have disabilities and also with those that don't. I enjoy writing about people with disabilities."
Lastly, I asked Matthew "What do you want people to know most about you?" Matthew's response was, "I am a fun person. I pray to God and go to church. I would like to be a good role model for all people." He believes that people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities should be able to come to a place like Rainbow Acres for help and support.
My final conversation regarding Matthew was with Margie Beach, Director of Communications and Community Relations.
She told me, "I would like our neighbors to know about Rainbow Acres. Rainbow Acres is a wonderful community for adults with developmental disabilities to have lives of purpose and dignity, and to have friends, possibly for the first time in their lives."
Matthew and adults with disabilities, to support and encourage Matthew, or to visit the Rainbow Acres campus please contact Margie at 928-567-5231, or write to 2120 West Reservation Loop Road, Camp Verde, Arizona 86322.