Friday, February 13, 2015

A Life Dedicated to Others

There was a time in our very community when orphanages and institutions housed children considered “unteachable.” Left to their own devices, without the tools to learn or encouragement to explore, without love to sustain them, these children did not thrive. The men of science and medicine considered their theories proven correct when these children did not develop, did not learn…died.

However this one time, in our community, a kind and ambitious woman who was a Sister and teacher at the St. James Orphanage decided to teach the children she knew who were not allowed to attend the public school. Then, she taught not only the orphan children but others who needed special attention and had nowhere else to turn. This was 1960, and how TheMadonna School began.

Sister Mary Evangeline gave her students a chance, she gave them love, and most of all, she gave them confidence to learn. She worked under the premise that every person deserves dignity and should be taught to live as independently as possible. For many years, The Madonna School was the only option for “special children.”

She wrote, “I thank God for giving me a heart which cannot be satisfied with just knowing about or reading about these children of God.”

Sr. Evangeline was not just a teacher, but also a student of the children at the Madonna School. She wrote these words as comfort to herself and others after a young girl named Mary Beth died while still a student at the Madonna School:
So many times, Mary Beth would smile and say to me, ‘It’s all right, sister – it’ll be okay!’ And now I remember – and I thank God for the message he sent me through Mary Beth.
‘Don’t worry,’ she often told me – and somehow these difficult days, I cannot recall what I did for Mary Beth or what I brought her or if I brightened any of her days – I am only remembering the patience she had with me, her attitude that whatever it was, was all right. In so short a time Mary Beth learned what some of us are still trying to figure out.”

We found the Madonna School because my son, Marcus, although in the same building as “normal children,” was being excluded from them. The administrators and “testers” saw Marcus not as a socially growing and anxious to learn child, but instead as a severely handicapped boy with an IQ too low for integration. To me, those with the power were dooming him to failure. When we heard of the Madonna School, we were desperate for an option.

On our first visit, the school building at that time was in a renovated church with small classrooms and narrow halls. But it was lit with positive energy, with ambition, and, I’ll say it again, with love. How could I not choose the school where I felt the teachers wanted my child to learn? They rooted for his success. The halls were not darkened from defeat, which I literally felt like a weight in the public school option.

That said, this was twenty years ago, and again, much has changed.  The public schools in my community no longer express that Down syndrome, in and of itself, is impossible to teach. Although many parents still have to work closely with the schools to promote integration and fair teaching of their children, there are several stories of success.

The Madonna School, too, has grown and adapted, offering specialized teachers and therapists to help the “whole child.” All along Sr. Mary Evangeline believed that every child should be given the education and tools to be a part of his community, to be as independent as possible, to contribute, to love and be loved.

In this era the Madonna School is the option families turn to for a place of safe learning and social interaction, the students build life-long friendships. Students are taught both academic and life skills in an environment that allows positive peer relationships. And once the students reach high school and transition ages, independent living and job skills are an integral part of the curriculum. Sr. Mary Evangeline was one of the first in our community to make adult living and life skills part of the goals for her students. As adults, “I did not want them to sit at home all day with no possibility of being important to others or to themselves.”

Sr. Mary Evangeline was truly a hero among us, she dedicated her life to the children in need of a teacher, and in turn taught our whole community how to value life. “There will always be special people who need special people.” This was his motto and her mission.

Rest in Peace, Sister,
my family and many others are indebted to your legacy.
Sister Mary Evangeline Randolph, RSM
September 25, 1919 – February 10, 2015

*All Sr. Mary Evangeline quotes are from her autobiography, I Have Seen Him.
Posted by Mardra Sikora

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Do you know anyone who would like to win $5000?

Maybe even you would you like to win $5000?

Hello Friends,

Do you know the winning ticket for the Celebration raffle is $5000? 

Each entry is  $50.  And your odds are very good.
In fact, better than 1 in 1000. 

Even more importantly, every ticket purchased goes toward a cause you care about, The Madonna School and Workshop!

Tickets will be on-sale at the Celebration Event or

Contact the Madonna School  for more information or to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Let's Get This Party Started!

The excitement builds as the Celebration nears. 

Mary Dobleman has been working for several months on preparing what will surely be another exciting success for the Madonna School program. She, and her husband Tom, have been advocates for the Madonna Programs for several years for many reasons and this year are the chairs of the Celebration event. 

When asked why the Madonna School is important to Mary and to the community, she answered:

Our nephew, Lewis has been a student at Madonna and we also have had other friends with special needs who have had their children at Madonna at different times. Tom and I both work in Healthcare and we have worked closely with special needs children and their families in different capacities providing different levels of care. One overall theme for all of these families was the concern they had for their special needs child as they became young adults and needed more life skills and ways to gain more independence. Every parent wants a child to be able to reach a level of skill where they can live independently. Madonna's mission was consistent with this concern and the dedication of the staff at Madonna was impressive. Tom and I realized this is the one place that is really helping fill the gap for these individuals. The money raised for the school is used wisely and the needs of each student is very basic. We want to help Madonna reach as many special needs children in our community as is possible.” 

Then on the subject of the sunflowers and this year’s Celebration theme:

Follow the Sun is our theme. Sunflowers grow toward the sun, they are bright and cheerful. Our Madonna children bring sunshine into our lives....they follow the sun .....they are bright and cheerful. as the theme song goes... Not knowing what tomorrow will bring, we will follow the sun"

If you’re wondering about what exciting new items and old favorites will be part of the auction this year, stay tuned! The Celebration Blog and Facebook page will begin sharing sneak peaks at some of the great stuff you can bid on while supporting the Madonna School.

Have you bought your tickets for the August 23rd event? You can reply to the school with a check or pay now through Paypal. We look forward to seeing you there!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Did you know that ostriches do not, in fact, bury their heads in sand? The illusion that an ostrich is hiding his head is actually a purposeful misconception intended to protect of his offspring from predators*. 

Parents: Have you ever been accused of denying or avoiding the facts, hiding from the truth, or ignoring the situation when it comes to your children? Was it true? Or perhaps those accusations came from people who did not know all of the facts, didn’t get close enough, or even misunderstood the situation.

Here’s another thing about the ostrich, they are hard to miss. Adult males are eight to nine feet in height and weigh 350-400 pounds*.

Sometimes, as a parent of a child with disability, I feel like a lone ostrich in an aviary full of lightweight, ready for flight, birds. I feel like every decision I make has an audience; I can’t be missed and am thus scrutinized by the onlookers. When I protect, or advocate, I may be mislabeled as mean or aggressive. And when provoked, I fight with the tools I have, which may appear backward, but work for my needs.

Maybe I’m alone on this ostrich analogy.
However, let’s assume for today that I am not.

Let’s assume, for today, that parents of adult children with disabilities have lived in/with this combination of feeling both misunderstood and under the spotlight for most, if not all, of the lives of their children. And that each time a parent appears to have his head hidden, he is actually attempting to divert trouble and keep his child (no matter the age) safe and healthy.

One safe option for adults with disabilities in our community is the Madonna Workshop. Currently, however, the workshop format is under extreme scrutiny and there are changes being legislated. In some states, families of people who choose workshops as an option are being forced to find other arrangements or try out new placements, even if they are happy in their current environment.

link to the official
Madonna School Website