Backstage, the cast is buzzing.
Props are being assembled, lines are being memorized, and last-minute stage directions are being given.
It’s rehearsal day for the nine performers in “A Christmas Carol,” the first ever show from Open Door Stage and Screen. This new program aims to create powerful productions by bringing together individuals we support and people passionate about theater.
Chad, who plays Scrooge, has perfected his role, and belts out his lines as only an old curmudgeon would while his fellow cast members receive some final costume adjustments.
“This is the start of something,” said Cary Johnston, the program’s director.
Cary has been in the field for over 15 years, providing creative support services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She decided to build a day program around the art of the theater because she liked the idea of having a program that got people moving. “I wanted to give people an opportunity to explore what they could do physically,” she said.
She spent a day with The Interact Company in Minneapolis and saw how individuals were empowered make their own choices, write their own scripts, and bring everything together to create a powerful performance. She decided to give it a try. Starting with just six people, she founded her own theater company for and by people with disabilities. The group achieved a great deal of success and operated in a variety of locations.
Now, Cary’s life journey has brought her to Open Door.
“What I wanted to do was build a legacy program with a company that has continued to reinvest in the arts,” said Cary. She was familiar with Open Door Art Studio and many of our staff who work there. “To see the same kind of investment in quality work, that made me think this was a good fit.”
After meeting with Becky Sharp and our Board of Directors, Open Door Stage and Screen was born.
It didn’t take long before folks started responding. “I like it, it’s really good,” said Ron, who plays Nephew Fred and the Governor. Many cast members have embraced playing multiple roles in the production even though most of the folks in the program have never done anything like this before.
Typically, Cary and the cast would rehearse for upwards of three months before they’d let anyone see their show. But for this first performance, they only rehearsed “A Christmas Carol” for a month and a half with just three short rehearsals per week.
Despite the time crunch, it’s clear that the individuals involved are thriving; they love having this opportunity to express themselves in a new way.
“Their multifaceted skills keep coming out,” said Cary. “Ron is an excellent stage manager and coach, and he can sew! Pete knows exactly what to do on stage, has great timing, and helps others with their lines.”
Cary makes her scripts personal: she matches the words in her script with the words the actors can say and enunciate. That, combined with a roundtable improv session with the group, is how the script is composed. This enhances group participation; once an individual realizes that what they say out loud will get done on stage, it encourages them to get involved.
After the script is written, the costumes and sets come next. To produce “A Christmas Carol,” the actors made their own costumes—yet another way the individuals made the show their own.
“That’s the fun part for me: giving over my interpretation and finding out what these guys want to do and then making it happen,” said Cary.
One of the goals going forward is to get more individuals involved with Open Door Stage and Screen. Initially, many of the folks in the program were also a part of CAC; going forward we will open it up to the public and enroll individuals who are not currently supported by Open Door.
While the threat of COVID is still present, we want to eventually reach a place where the program can maintain an in-house company as well as a touring company to reach out to the greater community. Also, we’d like to give the performers a cut of the house earnings for acting performances—much like how artists at Open Door Art Studio receive a portion of their work’s profits.
Cary addressed the cast after a successful rehearsal with some comforting words. “If everyone on the stage is having a blast, then the audience will have a blast.”
The group went on to perform “A Christmas Carol” in front of two audiences at CAC, both receiving standing ovations from the crowd. It was a great way to get people in the holiday spirit and was a big confidence-booster for everyone involved in the program.
This program has really brought out the creativity for the folks we support, which has given everyone some great ideas of what shows they’d like to do in the future. Check out the upcoming program schedule below and be sure to mark your calendars for all the exciting performances coming in 2022, courtesy of Open Door Stage and Screen!
2022 schedule for Open Door Stage and Screen (exact dates/times are subject to change):
“Open Door Stage and Screen Sing-a-Long”
May 6th, 6-7pm
Get ready for a sing along! We sample all our favorite scenes and songs from Disney and Broadway. See and hear songs from Wicked, Jungle Book, Little Shop of Horrors, Moana, Beauty and the Beast, and more!
“The Western at the OD Corral”
June 22nd and June 28th
Ready for something very different? In the spirit of other outdoor dramas such as Tecumseh and Blue Jacket, we go outdoors to bring the Old West to town. Don’t get too comfortable…a bank robber is on the loose!
Special Outdoor Presentation at the CAC grounds
September Fashion Show
Time, date, and venue TBA
All eyes on fashion! We use the inspiration of our favorite childhood toys to create unique fashion statements.
“The Grinch That Stole Christmas”
December 14th and December 21st
Get ready to sing along with the “Whos” this holiday season!
Each year, after months of planning and assessing, our organization puts forward our annual strategic goals. For 2022, we’ve streamlined our goals into three areas:
- Enriching employee experiences
- Building leadership infrastructure, and
- Developing sustainable service models utilizing creative staffing and funding sources.
So, what do these goals mean, and how will we go about achieving them? Let’s find out.
In each edition of our newsletter, we’ll have a conversation with Becky Sharp, Chief Executive Director of Open Door, who will share her thoughts on the progress our organization is making in a variety of areas.
In this edition, she talks with Andrew Stinson, Marketing Coordinator at Open Door, about the unique challenges 2022 brings as well as creative ways we can achieve our strategic goals.
Andrew: In previous years, we’ve had a long list of goals, but for 2022 we’ve condensed everything down to just three. Why the change for 2022?
Becky: Our strategic process starts back in July and August when we meet with departments. When we paired down the goals, the interesting thing is that all the departments aligned with those three categories. COVID has had an impact not just in a financial aspect but in its effect on staff and the ability for us to fill the shifts that we have. We’ve been having administrative staff working multiple hours on the weekends—everyone is doing their job to make that happen, and we felt like having all those different objectives were setting us up to not be able to accomplish everything throughout 2022. We decided this next year would be more about survival and resilience and getting through so we can make positive changes within the system.
Andrew: The first goal is “Enrich Employee Experiences.” Tell me a little bit about that.
Becky: One of the things that has come out of the COVID period was the quarterly bonus; it was apparent in the employee surveys that the bonuses really impacted their experience here. Not only keeping the bonuses, but also looking at the benefit package and enriching those. Looking at a discount program for staff that we just initiated for community businesses, looking at ways that we can possibly in the next year come up with housing options.
The other things that employees said in the surveys was that the responsiveness that occurred during the beginning of the pandemic needed to continue. That also means supporting them with supplies and delivering their mail instead of making them come to the corporate office. It’s about the overall experience the employee has from the moment they walk in the building. It’s important that they feel like we’re inspiring their life journey.
Andrew: Another key area—and a long-term goal—is to build leadership infrastructure. What do we plan on doing in 2022 to accomplish this goal?
Becky: Leadership development should always be a priority. Historically in our company, we’ve focused on the same people being here leading the ship, and not so much on that next level of succession planning and cross-training so that others are gaining the knowledge necessary to advance their own careers. So, this past year, we started our first leadership program. This wasn’t focused on tasks, but on self-development, reflection, and looking forward towards the future for new leaders to develop.
In 2022, we’re taking that to the next level, including the knowledge of advocacy, legislators, public policy, and how we can really impact change in our system. The other thing we’re building in the leadership program is everyone’s ability to publicly share their story and feeling confident enough to go down and ask for a meeting at the statehouse. It’s one thing for myself or other CEOs to go talk to them, but when they hear from DSPs and other people in the field, it has a larger impact.
Andrew: That all sounds great! How is our Board of Directors involved in building leadership infrastructure? What goals do we have for the board?
Becky: Our board is so critical to fundraising, governance, and supporting the infrastructure that it takes to really make change in our field. We want to put a focus on board recruiting; we have three potential seats that are open. We’re revising the bylaws because they haven’t been looked at in several years. It’s been apparent in our board’s self-assessments that we’d also like to diversify the board. We also want to give the individuals a voice by having an individual join the board. With all this, we’d like to have board training, development, and a lot more engagement in the overall objectives of the company.
Andrew: Now the third strategic goal is a little bit of a mouthful, I’ll admit! “Develop sustainable service models utilizing creative staffing and funding sources.” There’s a lot to unpack there.
Becky: Yes, there is! On the service model side, we built the system on ‘whatever you need, you get.’ And what that meant was that any issue or concern that arose, we would add additional staff to solve the problem. The issue now is the workforce does not allow for that, and we’re setting ourselves and the individuals we support up for failure.
We need to start from the least restrictive ways to do services. For instance, technology, which we’ve been able to implement successfully in some of the homes. This technology doesn’t mean that staff are removed from their life, but there are times during the day when technology could support the individual to be more independent through an iPad, assisted devices, or through medication machines that dispense or remind folks to take their medication.
Andrew: So, this would eliminate the need for staff to be present in the homes in some situations.
Becky: Right. For example, if someone had a behavior 30 years ago where they played with the stove—and that’s the only reason they have staff in the home—there are assistive stove devices now that alert everybody when that’s an issue. So just looking at creative assistive technology and creative staffing will allow more funding for the individuals to do things they want to do when they want to do them; without always being dependent on staff schedules. And in the homes where we were able to successfully implement the technology, the individuals’ independence has increased to the point where others are saying, “how can we do this?” What we’re looking at now is reserving the people aspect for the things that require people, like personal care and transportation.
Andrew: You met recently with Governor DeWine. Did any of these topics come up during the meeting?
Becky: Yes, during our meeting with the Governor folks were talking about developing programs to help individuals get their own driver’s licenses. And, wow, wouldn’t that be cool if some individuals could transport themselves in the community to wherever they wanted to go? Also, we talked about smart homes and using the technology that we have now, like Ring doorbells, instead of having staff there just because they let strangers in the house. That could be controlled with technology instead of a person. People think it’s just a camera staring at you, but not necessarily. It’s all those things that can be done by a device to replace what the DSP would do for that individual.
Andrew: And we’re looking into creating an app as well, is that correct? In what ways could that help?
Becky: At first, I was a little hesitant to explore it! After talking to many younger folks and some folks who have retired, I saw that they’re seeking work-life balance and they want to connect with who they’re working with in a different way. They all said an app would be a wonderful thing: An app where folks could upload their training and credentials and be able to work for multiple providers.
Let me give you an example. One of our individuals loves to go bowling on Saturdays. Say we have someone in the community who signs up on the app, gets their training on there, and says ‘oh, I’d love to take this person bowling from 11-3 on Saturday.’ They can sign up to work that shift, and the provider can approve or disapprove of the person. They would be a subcontractor as opposed to a full-time staff. The other cool thing we’re hoping to have happen is a system to rate that staff, so they’re rewarded for picking up that shift and doing a good job. We would be able to pay more if we’re not paying benefits to those folks.
Andrew: That seems like it could be an attractive option for our organization, our staff, and the individuals we support.
Becky: And other professions already do this sort of thing. Baristas have an app, nannies have one, substitute teachers have one. We’re the only field, I think, that’s behind the curve on that.
Andrew: Is there any potential downside to having DSPs be contracted instead of working as a full-time employee?
Becky: The downside comes when someone is routine-oriented and wants consistent staffing. However, right now consistent staffing isn’t happening anywhere across the state because we don’t have enough humans to fill all the shifts. What it comes down to is this: The workforce crisis has accentuated the fact that we must do business differently. And coming up with creative solutions to these challenges is the best way to weather the storm and achieve all our strategic goals in 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many big challenges for our direct support professionals (DSPs).
Mamadou Bah works as a DSP at Harlem, a home in our Supported Community Living program that supports five guys: Dan, Anthony, Roy, Matt, and George. Back in 2020, with the pandemic just beginning and a lockdown looming, Mamadou had a decision to make.
As case numbers were growing rapidly in Ohio, how would he continue caring for the guys at Harlem? And at what cost to himself and those he loves? He knew he would have to either leave the guys, or remain in the house for the duration of the lockdown. After weighing his options, Mamadou had a bold, clear, and profound response.
“I chose to stay.”
Those four words carried so much importance for the guys at Harlem, as it meant someone would be there for them no matter the risks. It’s a decision that not every DSP would make—and understandably so. Mamadou has five children ranging in age from 8 to 17.
“It was not an easy decision,” he said.
“They [DSPs] had to be there every single moment,” said Anthony Njunge, Open Door’s Director of Operations. “The sacrifice, the selflessness, the kindness. It’s like nothing else. When the world went hiding, they ran to the war.”
Mamadou stayed due to his compassion for the individuals he supported, the lack of other available staff to support them, and his desire to keep everyone around him safe. Through a lot of teamwork and perseverance, Mamadou and the folks at Harlem have continued to thrive. “We have good leadership. Becky, the nurses, everybody…they really helped us.”
Another reason he chose to stay—and a testament to his character—is that Mamadou was born to help others. His life journey brought him from the west African nation of Guinea to Kansas, where he worked in a nursing home for three years. He then moved to Columbus and has been working as a DSP with us at Open Door for 12 years.
It all started with helping his parents and grandparents.
When Mamadou came to the house at Harlem two years ago it was a huge adjustment for him. One individual had moved into the house not long before Mamadou took over as the supervisor. This individual was in a very tough situation before moving in; he was homeless for much of his life and had been hospitalized for a year prior due to severe medical issues.
Since Mamadou has worked with this person, they’ve built a wonderful rapport. He helped him to trust that he has a stable home now. The individual is now taking his medications and has not had any hospitalizations. He’s also started going out on regular shopping trips, has started visiting his mom on a regular basis, and reports that he is the happiest that he has ever been.
“They bring me joy!” said Mamadou of the individuals he supports. “When you do something for them, they say ‘thank you.’ And that’s really comforting. I appreciate it.”
As many of our DSPs know, one of the personal benefits of the job is helping individuals go on trips. During the summer of 2021, Mamadou helped a group of individuals to go camping at Buck Creek State Park. He’s also visited Hawaii with another individual earlier in his career.
Mamadou relishes the opportunity to serve others on these trips. A lot of planning goes into making them fun experiences for the individuals: from hotel arrangements, to food, transportation, and booking local events and attractions.
Ever since Mamadou has been at Harlem, three of the guys have had the dream of going to Tennessee. Recently, Mamadou helped turn that dream into reality for the three country music fans.
The Grand Ole Opry was a must-visit destination in Music City. He took the guys all over town and made sure that they got to do all the activities that they wanted to do. One of the guys had not been on vacation in years and had not been out all at much over the last year. This individual reported that he had so much fun in Nashville that he cannot wait to plan the next trip!
Going on trips is just one of the many ways that Mamadou displays his talents and compassion. Normally, it’s the daily grind that keeps him going. It takes a lot of organizational skill to administer medicine and keep schedules straight for all the guys at Harlem.
But all that comes with being a leader, a role that Mamadou relishes.
One of our company’s goals is to build new leaders and the best leaders are those who lead by example. Mamadou sets a positive example for all staff and individuals to follow—he’s the perfect mix of a supervisor who sets guidelines for the staff and individuals but is also their friend and someone that they can all look up to.
Mamadou is hoping that one day he can move up in the company when the opportunity presents itself.
“He gets to know the staff and individuals on a personal level and has created a true team at Harlem,” said Gretchen VanNatta, Director of Social Services at Open Door, who has known Mamadou for over 13 years. She describes him as honest, trustworthy, dependable, and kind.
His leadership skills have not gone unnoticed by fellow DSPs, who count on Mamadou as someone they can look up to and emulate. He has some simple advice for newer DSPs who want to be successful:
“You have to be committed,” he said. “You have to be connected; you have to like the job.”
One thing he always tells newer staff is to invest their time in getting to know the individuals they support. The job might seem easy at first, but if you don’t pay attention, it can get you in trouble. A successful staff member will take the time to learn, be patient, and be careful.
If a newer staff member is confused or unsure about something, they should feel free to ask for help. “There is always someone to guide you,” he said.
We’re proud that Mamadou continues to lead by example for his fellow staff members and the individuals he supports. We know that his compassion, perseverance, and work ethic will continue to inspire life journeys.
Become a DSP
Are you looking for a career with a purpose? Open Door’s team of Direct Support Professionals help people every day.
Experiences Are Everything | Winter 2022
From the art studio to the garden to events all around central Ohio, see what we’ve been up to lately!
Interested in Volunteering?
We’re looking for great people who want to share their time and their talents with the individuals we support!
Certainly, 2021 came with some challenges for all of us! However, Open Door Art Studio and our artists have persevered—and we have plenty to be proud of.
First and foremost, we were proud to continue providing our artists with safe, quality programming and community opportunities. Going beyond that, the past year also brought us some amazing moments that we’ll never forget, including our July opening reception of “This Inspired That.”
It was our studio’s first in-person reception since being shut down, and everyone was so excited to be able to see the creative works in the studio again! We secured an exclusive partnership with Blockfort Gallery and Studios for this exhibition; it was so great to have their artists create response pieces to selected works created by our artists. All the Blockfort folks were also able to attend the reception, meet our artists, and help us welcome the community back!
“You sometimes don’t realize how much social interaction is needed until it is taken away,” said Sean Moore, Program Director of Open Door Art Studio & Gallery.
Our art studio is not resting on its laurels—there are some big ideas ahead for 2022! We always strive to connect with the art community at large and this year we would love to start a program for local artists to submit proposals for solo or group exhibitions in our space. We would love for our artists to have the opportunity to see the proposal process firsthand, and even serve as jurors during selection. We are also in the process of constructing a little library that we hope to fill with art-related books. We love the idea of having our neighbors utilize this resource as a creative exchange!
And…our 2022 exhibition calendar is set!
“This year, we really wanted to give our artists opportunities to explore new subject matters and forms of art making,” said Sean. One exhibition that everyone is excited for is “InterWoven.” It will be our first ever solely textile exhibition. We had a community artist who specializes in textiles and fabrics lead a creative workshop for our artists. The response was great, and the resulting works were unlike anything we’ve seen in the studio before!
Another exhibition that we are always excited for is “This Inspired That.” It will be our *eleventh* year hosting this exhibition and we are so excited to announce this year’s partnering organization…so stay tuned for that!
See our full 2022 exhibition schedule below and be sure to mark your calendars!
This Inspired That
April 9, 2022 – May 6, 2022
Join us for our annual “This Inspired That” exhibition, where inspiration leads to innovation! With community-based artists drawing from the works of Open Door artists to produce brand new pieces, this exhibition is truly the pinnacle of creative collaboration.
August 13, 2022 – September 2, 2022
Join us for “Role Reversal,” an exhibition curated by Open Door artists and featuring artworks created by Open Door staff. Can the staff of Open Door put their money where their mouth is and create an exhibition worth of artwork? One thing’s for sure – the Open Door artists won’t let us not!
One of our organization’s goals for 2022 is to build leadership infrastructure and one of the many ways we can do this is by continuing to develop our Open Door Board of Directors. This year, we’d like to set them up for success by focusing on board training, development, and finding more ways for members to engage in advancement of our overall objectives.
Perhaps most importantly, our board and leadership team agreed that we need to recruit more members. We currently have three potential open seats on the board; to fill those positions we want to put an emphasis on recruiting new members that can add more board diversity. We’re interested in folks with a variety of work experiences and backgrounds, including in the medial field, media, public relations, and people with knowledge of our field. We also want to give those we support a voice by having an individual with disabilities join our board.
“Diversity of all kinds is key for any organization to grow and thrive,” said Conner Brintlinger, who is entering his third year on the board. “But it’s also critical in our approach to continue improving as an organization to ensure that we are constantly providing the best services to those we serve.”
As a government affairs professional, Conner uses the skills and relationships he’s acquired over his professional career to continue raising awareness about our field and introducing policy makers and influencers to the work that Open Door is doing in the DD community. He’s proud to have been part of the team that pursued recent rebranding efforts for our organization, and for hosting a fundraiser this Fall at Open Door Art Studio.
Conner also has a personal connection to the field. His grandmother was the primary caregiver for her sister and niece, both born with development disabilities. Growing up, Conner spent considerable time them. He recalls that they were enrolled in a work program through a local nonprofit, similar to Open Door. “I can remember how much that work and responsibility meant to and affected my great-aunt and cousin on a daily basis. I also remember the respite it provided my grandmother, their primary caregiver.”
Conner has used his personal and professional interests to make a difference in the community, something that all our board members strive towards. Our board is currently made up of eight committed individuals with a wide variety of impressive backgrounds, including attorneys, financial and real estate professionals, experts in the field of developmental disabilities, and family members who represent the people we support.
Continuing to recruit dedicated board members who bring their own unique skill sets, perspectives, and expertise will not only strengthen our organization but, more importantly, it will continue to advance our mission of inspiring the life journeys of people with disabilities.
Our On the Go (OTG) group in Union County helps individuals we support become more integrated in the community and more active in society. Having this opportunity to connect with their peers and staff allows them to see the importance in themselves. We love being able to take individuals out in the community so they can do things they may have never been able to do or have the means to do otherwise.
“Our community experiences have been a huge success for our individuals who attend OTG,” said staff member Ashley H. “They enjoy all the activities we do together and build relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Our group has been busy! Some recent stops included looking for scarecrows for Halloween, going through the planes at the Air Force Museum, learning about our military’s history at Mott’s Military Museum, and discovering how Ohio became a state at the Ohio Historical Village. The group has also attended many neighboring county fairs where individuals have enjoyed getting fair food and riding rides. They truly love being part of the community!
This group helps individuals feel accepted and valued; they even express how the staff members at various events remember their likes and dislikes. When we return to those same places, the staff at those locations have learned who our individuals are. They don’t have to question them on what they want or need—they already know. That makes our individuals feel comfortable, respected, and accepted by their community. “I will fight to keep my spot in OTG, because I enjoy coming and getting out,” said Pam, a member of the group.
A favorite stop for our OTG group is Goshen Lanes in Mechanicsburg. The staff there are so welcoming and very helpful to all the individuals we support. They have taken the time to learn who they are. When the individuals walk in, they are greeted by name, they know their shoe size without even having to ask, and even remember their food orders! (Unless they decide to change it up.) They have become a great place in our community that the individuals love to go—a place where they can bond together and build relationship.
Individuals are so willing to help each other out, whether by picking up a bowling ball and taking it to their peer that is in a wheelchair or grabbing the ramp for them to bowl. They’ve really developed a good relationship of trust with each other. We have even been able to give back to our community by volunteering. One individual, Jorge Addison, is particularly happy to volunteer at the Hope Center…his whole world lights up as he gets to do volunteer work at a place he’s always wanted to help. “I love OTG completely!” he said.
These are just a few of the recent ways our OTG group has impacted the lives of individuals. All of this has moved our staff in a very special way. All the great smiles, laughs, and conversations just flood their days with happiness. “It’s the little things that remind me that life is too short to stress the small things,” said staff member Ashley M. “If these individuals can live their lives to the fullest and give their all no matter what, we can do the same.”
Open Door in Union County
Helping individuals reach their personal and financial goals by offering employment support and innovative community-based adult day services for individuals with disabilities in Union County.
An Ode to the Times
You’ve read all the way to the end! Thanks for that 😊
So, how’d we do? Send us your thoughts on our newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there something you want to know about Open Door? Just ask! We answer reader questions in every quarterly issue!
Reader question: “I’m interested in becoming a volunteer. What sorts of things can I help with?”
Answer: There are so many great things you can do as a volunteer! Whatever your interests are, you can help! You can help out with:
- Community Experiences
- Creative Programs
- Community Garden & Farmer’s Market
- Special Events
- Educators/Special Interest
- Theatre, Music, Dance Instruction or Demonstration
- Administrative Support
And the best part is we’re always looking for volunteers! Check out our volunteer page to learn more and sign up!
See all the ways we inspire life journeys!