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Lakes Region Community Services faces state budget cuts

Local families fear devastating consequences

April 06, 2011
REGION — Wendy Costigan will have to quit her job.

Over the years, the Bristol mother of four children has managed, through difficult circumstances, to provide a rewarding life for her autistic son, Michael, soon to turn 21, and her entire family.

She has been able to contribute to the family income and pursue a career thanks in part to the support services that Michael has been able to receive in the last few years from Lakes Region Community Services (LRCS).

But all that is in jeopardy if proposed cuts to the state's Health and Human Services budget are enacted in Concord for the upcoming biennial cycle.

Michael is on the Developmental Services Waiting List to receive services from the state when his school based service supports expire next year. In late February, Costigan was distressed to receive the news that if the proposed cuts go through, Michael will no longer be eligible to receive services from Lakes Region Community Services when he turns 21.

"There is nothing that can replace them," says Costigan.

She says that for the moment, Michael is thriving, in large part due to the program of supports he receives from LRCS. He has a direct support professional who picks him up every day for a 30-hour-per-week schedule of supervised recreational, work and volunteer activities outside of the home. He does his own food shopping and laundry. He likes to go swimming in the summer at Cummings Beach. He reports for his volunteer work assignment at the Plymouth Food Pantry. In Bristol, he helps deliver the Town Crier news bulletin to businesses all over town. When it opens in the spring, he will be washing the animal exhibit windows at the Squam Lake Natural Science Center. It is a very full and meaningful life.

"He just loves it," says Costigan. "When it snows, and I have to tell him the it is a no-transport day and he has to stay home, he is really upset. The program allows him to get out of the house. It allows him to have his own life, be socially active, gain some life skills and contribute to the community. If it goes away, it will be a big setback for us. For one thing, his mom will have to quit work so she can stay home every day and take care of him."

Costigan says that her son is almost entirely non-verbal, and fairly low functioning, but he is warm and funny, and he likes hiking and swimming. He will be more isolated staying at home, and he will likely, of necessity, get less one-on-one attention. He is liable to lose some of the life-skills that he has achieved over the years. But he will probably do O.K. because he has always had a strong extended family support network.

"We have always been willing and able to make sacrifices to provide for him," says Costigan. "I cannot imagine what it will be like for those people who are not so lucky. What are the single moms going to do?"

Lakes Region Community Services spokesperson Shannon Kelly says that the Costigans are not alone.

Many developmentally disabled and acquired brain disorder clients and their families will face "significant cuts" to support services.

"We are terribly concerned about this, and we have been trying to keep individuals and families informed of the possibilities so that they can plan ahead and make the necessary preparations. In some cases, the cutbacks will be devastating," says Kelly.

It's not just the impact on these individuals, according to Kelly.

"Many people may not realize it, but people with disabilities currently contribute in the community a great deal," she explained. "For example, many of the Senior Meals on Wheels program volunteers are LRCS clients. If they are not receiving services, those volunteer hours go away and other important social service programs may suffer. With some assistance and transportation services, some LRCS clients work at paying jobs to help them live on their own and be financially independent. Others are able to attend college courses. Cutbacks in services will have an immediate impact on their families' ability to work and generate income. There will be a ripple effect throughout the larger economy."

The projected budget cuts will amount to close to $1.2 million in services to Lakes Region Community Services alone, affecting up to 576 clients and their families.

More information on Lakes Region Community Services is available at the Web site, www.lrcs.org., including a compelling YouTube video on one client's perspective on the impending cutbacks and the impact it will have on her life.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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