- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
All in a day’s play: Connie Riggs begins her workday by picking up longtime friends Shirley Frazier and Mike Westin from their homes in Waldorf and Mechanicsville. From there, it’s up to them how they spend the day.
It’s a unique job description, but one that fits Riggs perfectly. The Nanjemoy resident grew up with cousins who had disabilities, and knew from when she was young that she wanted to work with disabled people.
“I never wanted to do anything else,” she said. “I just always loved working with them.”
Riggs has worked 30 years at Melwood, the Upper Marlboro-based nonprofit which provides services to people with disabilities, and spent most of them job coaching and as a worksite supervisor, overseeing 16 individuals working custodial jobs at the Holiday Inn in Waldorf and acting as a de-facto liaison between the hotel and the nonprofit.
She’s known Frazier and Westin since she first started at Melwood, so when both were among the five individuals included under the organization’s new Community Connections program three years ago, Riggs leapt at the chance to be their coordinator.
Most of the disabled people served by Melwood fit into its traditional employment or campus-based day programs. But occasionally there are those who cannot hold down a steady job and are also too advanced to enjoy, or are overstimulated by, the day programming, said Kimberly Visek, who oversees Community Connections and the Waldorf-based Personal Enrichment Program.
Melwood started Community Connections in order to “bridge that gap,” giving the nonprofit added flexibility while still providing individuals with daily opportunities to socialize, Visek said.
So for the last three years, Frazier and Westin have selected the destinations with Riggs as their chaperone and fellow adventurer. Their favorite activities include walks along the Indian Head Rail Trail, exercise at the Nanjemoy Community Center and visits to the library.
They’ve taken trips to Washington, D.C., museums, attended the Charles County Sheriff’s Office’s drunken-driving demonstration at a local school and taken classes on how to use a computer, ride horseback and dance. Recently they helped Anathoth House, a nonprofit outreach ministry and food pantry in Waldorf, prepare pork chop and baked chicken dinners to hand out to local homeless folks.
Westin enjoys going on job interviews and stopping by McDonald’s to grab a sweet tea.
“I love doing arts and crafts,” Frazier said. She and Westin keep a photo album cataloguing all their fun.
“Whatever they want to do. I love being there with them and helping them do whatever they want to do. If they want to go jump out of a plane, I’m there with them,” Riggs said, noting that she had yet to actually receive that particular request.
Melwood recently added a sixth person to its original five-member Community Connections roster, and Visek said the goal is to more than double the program with eight new members by July 2013.