Every Monday through Friday, Norma Anderson oversees the “cat room” at the Central Missouri Humane Society. Sometimes she cleans cages. Other times she refills food bowls and makes sure the felines have plenty of water, especially on hot summer days. But best of all, Norma cuddles kittens; every now and then a curious cat springs to her shoulder and rubs across her neck, making her laugh.
Norma will be the first to tell you she has the job of her dreams.
“I love it, I love it!” she said, giggling with excitement. “I get to work with animals, and the people there know my diagnosis.”
Norma, 21, has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that can make ordinary social interactions a struggle, among other things. Until recently, Norma’s developmental disability might have prevented her from joining the workforce and made her more dependent on her grandmother, a scenario Fern Anderson feared disastrous for her granddaughter.
“My goal in life has always been to get Norma to live independently,” said Fern, who has raised Nora since she was 4. “If something happens to me, what will happen to Norma? She needs to know how to live independently. Up to now, I’ve done everything.”
Thanks to the Partnership for Hope, Fern is confident her granddaughter will be ready for the future. Last fall, Norma received a variety of services through Boone County Family Resources, including job training and a chance to participate in a socialization class called Circles. She also received Community Specialist Services to develop practical living skills such as budgeting and cooking.
The instruction not only helped Norma land a job, but has better prepared her for an independent life.
“She has developed social skills and learned how to take on responsibilities,” Fern said. “She’s also learned how to clean, which is important if you’re going to live on your own.”
In the past, Norma would have had to have been in crisis – lost her grandmother or become homeless, for example – to receive these services. That changed late last year when Gov. Jay Nixon lent his support to a partnership among the state of Missouri, 37 county developmental disability boards and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The new program provides services to people with disabilities and their families far sooner, helping recipients avoid crisis and delay or avoid the move to a residential home or institution.
Norma was among the first people in the state to sign up for the program. Today, more than 1,300 persons in 83 counties and the city of St. Louis have received services. Each participant receives up to $12,000 in services per year.
After Norma graduated from high school in 2009, she enrolled in community college. But keeping up with her peers proved too much for Norma, who also has a learning disability. She applied for jobs, but had few skills to offer. Fern worried her granddaughter would be stuck at home and lose the social skills she acquired in school. Partnership for Hope was an answer to her prayers.
“The services she receives through the Partnership of Hope have made all this possible,” Fern said.
Now that she’s employed, Norma has opened a bank account, pays for her cellphone and helps cover household expenses. She’s even planning a trip, one that might not have been possible without her new found independence.
“I’m saving up for a plane ticket to visit my mom in Cheyenne, Wyo.,” she said.