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Discussion – 


Difference Makers | Mike Simmons

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At Open Door, we’re all difference makers!

Read about one of our amazing DSPs, Mike Simmons, and how he helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live their best lives.

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It’s cold, but not too cold. Sweater weather, for sure.

The On the Go (OTG) group from Open Door in Union County is fishing at Richwood Lake on a crisp September morning in west-central Ohio.

The water is calm and serene, with an occasional cool breeze revealing the undeniable fact that the dog days of summer have ended.

Steve, Kenyon, Pam, and Diego are out enjoying the beautiful landscape. Each group member has found their own way of enjoying this experience.

a pond with a few people walking on it
a person sitting on a bench
a man jumping in the air

Steve, a newer member of the group, casts his pole off the dock. He’s probably the most experienced fisherman of the group—he often goes with his brother. Kenyon, an OTG regular, is fishing too. The two are trying a variety of locations around the lake to see where the action is.

Pam isn’t much for fishing, but she’s making the most of the brisk Fall morning by listening to some music from her bench near the water. She likes antiquing and the group makes plans to do some window shopping in Delaware later in the day—an idea that brings a smile to her face.

Diego, like Pam, isn’t interested in fishing, but he’s found his fun with the rocks scattered near the lake. One by one, he’ll take a rock give it a good sidearm fling towards the lake. Plop! The ripples in the lake don’t seem to bother the nearby geese—out in full force this morning—whose audible greetings make sure everyone in earshot is aware of their presence.

a man and a woman standing on a boat with a fishing pole

Mike Simmons, a Direct Support Professional (DSP) with Open Door in Union County, leads the group. Mike came to Open Door in November of 2019, where he helped with transportation at Open Door Art Studio and Career, Activity, & Community (CAC) before starting his current role in Union County.

“Mike is an amazing DSP and is very laid back,” says Victoria Davis, the Program Director for Open Door in Union County. “We enjoy having him!”

Mike typically spends his days coaching individuals we support who work at UCO Industries. He’s proud to have honed his skills over his 37-year career in the field, which began at Goodwill’s residential dormitory.

As Diego’s rocks continue flying toward the lake, Mike reminisces about his roots in Centerburg, Ohio, and what made him want to get into the field. He first became interested in psychology during his youth when he joined a behavioral sciences book club and started reading the work of people like Carl Jung.

While in college at Columbus State, he soon realized that people with advanced degrees typically are in offices pushing paper.

“And they’re not out doing this,” he says with a smile, pointing to the group members enjoying their outdoor experience.

When Mike first started in the field in 1985, things were different. Larger groups of individuals would, in his words, “stick out” and be treated with less dignity and respect. Now, there is an increased level of awareness of individuals with disabilities and people in the community tend to be more accepting. Groups like his now blend in with everyone else.

OTG groups in Union County help individuals to engage with the community in a variety of ways, from attending and participating in community events, enjoying local experiences like the Columbus Zoo, or even simple pleasures like morning fishing trips like this.

a man holding a fishing rod

When they first met, Diego wouldn’t talk to Mike. But they soon discovered a shared connection: both have Native American heritage. Mike learned that Diego loves dancing at pow wows and enjoys watching video clips of others performing these dances that honor their culture.

This soon built trust between the two—and now they talk all the time! Mike hopes to take a group to a weekend pow wow and let Diego introduce his peers to his culture.

Advocating for individuals to be themselves and make their own decisions is why Mike does his job. He says a key idea for newer DSPs to grasp is that you can help folks grow without trying to arrange all the outcomes.

“Don’t think of yourself as a parent who has to provide all solutions,” he says.

No matter what an individual’s situation is, they have a set of values that they live their lives by. The best thing we can do is talk about their options and then let the individual choose what to do next.

Few things get Mike more excited than talking about data. He’s always working to articulate and implement trackable, measurable goals that represent what individuals want and help them reach success, whatever that may look like for them.

He uses words that are concrete and easily understandable rather than vague terms that can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. The clarity in these goals help staff understand their responsibilities and is an easy way for everyone to track progress.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mike spots a great blue heron near the middle of the lake and notifies the group.

“I see it too!” says Pam. “It’s beautiful!”

Kenyon approaches Mike; he’s having a problem with his fishing pole. Mike, who comically refers to himself as ‘not a mechanical expert,’ analyzes the situation. “It’s not the line, it’s the reel,” he concludes.

Unfortunately, the fish don’t seem to be biting this morning. The combination of the cold temperatures and Diego’s rock bombardments probably aren’t helping their efforts. But the lack of fishing success doesn’t matter—the group is having fun and that’s what today is all about.

Steve offers to share his reel with Kenyon for a while before the group decides it’s time for lunch. Mike leads the group back to the van, and the group chats about where they’ll go this afternoon.

A successful morning.

Inspired by Mike? You can help!

Make a year-end gift to Open Door and be a difference maker!

Open Door

Open Door is a Columbus-based nonprofit provider for individuals with developmental disabilities. Our mission and vision are to inspire life journeys and cultivate valued roles for all people. What door can we open for you?

1 Comment

  1. Jackie

    What a good article, I felt like I was there! I love the idea that people with disabilities just blend into the community now. DSPs like Mike deserve a lot of respect and gratitude!


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