“Chresto- what?” This is what Executive Director Linda Moore often hears when asked the name of her company. “Chrestomathy. It was selected from the Greek derivative meaning of ‘useful learning.’ We are a day training and habilitation service center for adults with developmental disabilities,” is her reply.
But it is more than that. Chrestomathy specializes in serving adults with complex needs, and has a client to staff ratio of two to one. Founded in 1985, Chrestomathy operates three sites located in South Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, and Burnsville. The organization serves a little over 100 clients, some of whom have been with it from the beginning. The enhanced staff ratio allows them to serve individuals with many types of behaviors, including, but not limited to, aggression, elopement, self-injurious behavior, spitting, toileting problems, and others.
Even with these challenges, it is the firm belief of Moore and the staff that everyone deserves an environment which allows them to develop self-worth through meaningful activities and work. Due to these issues, Chrestomathy is the only place for many of their clients, and Moore and her staff are happy to serve them.
With a positive, pro-active approach, and a commitment to excellence, even the most difficult clients to work with see progress, even though it may be measured over months, not days or weeks. Every client gets the opportunity to participate in the renowned Chrestomathy artwork programs, which also can provide a small income for the clients. Handmade soaps, hand stenciled t-shirts and sweatshirts, birdhouses and birdfeeders are available to the public, all created by clients.
This July, Chrestomathy celebrates its 20 year anniversary. When it first began, Moore and some associates were providing residential housing to individuals who had come from state institutions and were “difficult to handle.” Hennepin County invited the group to submit a proposal for a Day Training and Habilitation Center. The idea was to provide better services to these difficult individuals. With only a dozen clients at first, Chrestomathy opened up in South Minneapolis at the Sabathani Community Center. To this day, it still maintains a relationship with Sabathani.
Moore, a licensed psychologist over those 20 years, takes a personal interest in the clients, and the programs that are developed. “Clients all have different passions and interests, and it is critical that we tap into these for their benefit and progress. Over time, focus and positive attitude and art help to reach and engage difficult clients.”
Crystall Corell knows the difference that time can make. For almost 18 years, she has been a fixture at Chrestomathy’s Sabathani site. She started out as a direct care worker and is now a supervisor. When asked what makes a Chrestomathy employee successful, she replied, “A sense of humor is important, but caring deeply about what you are doing; caring about the clients, not what your experience will be.” “Everyone should work at Chrestomathy at least once in their life,” says Corell. “It stays with you.” She is right. As a former employee, it has stayed with me for all these years.
One of the changes over the past twenty years is that clients now tend to come from a family home, instead of an institutional setting. This necessitates the addition of parents and other concerned family members to the interdisciplinary teams. But the change is a good one. As noted earlier, the client’s individual preferences, likes and dislikes are more easily ascertained than before, and progress can be measured in more ways than just a mark on a tally sheet.
In fact, the connection, and sometimes re-connection of families and clients are often a result of the outstanding work being done at Chrestomathy. “Waiting 40 years for a hug,” is what Moore thought one story should be called. An autistic client, who had grown up within his family, was particularly averse to physical contact. His mother had tried to connect, but to no avail. Finally, at a family gathering, this client was able to hug her, and sit around the table with family members and talk using sign language. It was a touching story.
Another change Moore has seen is the community’s reaction to individuals with disabilities. It has improved greatly, mainly due to the mainstreaming in school of clients, the downsizing of the state institutions, and subsequent opening of group homes. But, even after all that, there are still individuals who feel that “these people” do not belong in the community.
The current legislative session is a prime example of how the decisions made at the state capital can have devastating results on those who often need the most help. Lobbyists are a luxury to organizations like Chrestomathy. Moore has had to seek help with the legislative process and it is a daunting and often times frustrating endeavor. Her efforts show just how much of a necessity there is for everyone in the community to step up and tell their elected officials to take the necessary legislative steps to help with the process of servicing those in need.
Chrestomathy has thrived over the years despite all the ups and downs of funding and other changes. It fills a need in the disability community that is often overlooked, and fills it well.
In 1995, Chrestomathy opened its third site in Burnsville to serve clients from Dakota County. Many of their clients now have a dual diagnosis of MR/MI. “In five years, we will be even more defined than we are now, and have a long history of having excellent staff. The clients will be growing and using systems to communicate. Many come to us without ever having a method of communication, and we try to be pro-active in that need.”
Being a smaller organization, the ability to change, and to change quickly are characteristics that serve them well. The end result is a dedicated staff, committed leadership, and results that are impressive. If you have any questions regarding Chrestomathy, or the artwork available to the public, call their corporate offices in Eden Prairie at (952) 974-0339.