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The ADA’s 31st Anniversary

Today, July 26th, is the Americans with Disabilities Act 31st Anniversary. MRI is proud to provide services that support the ADA and excited to celebrate 31 years of having the ADA in place!

MRI works to reflect the ADA’s mission into our own. Meaningful Meadows, employment programs, community participation programs, and transportation services are a few prime examples of how accessibility for ALL has been achieved by MRI for the past 33 years.

Meaningful Meadows is one of the first outdoor activity centers in Illinois that was created to be accessible for adults with disabilities while also offering recreational exercise, relaxation, and sensory learning. Our facility’s park includes wheelchair-accessible swings, a smooth concrete walking path, along with a sensory garden, waterfall, splash pad, mini-golf, and musical chimes. Meaningful Meadows is a symbol of inclusivity and accessibility for ALL.

The objective of the ADA’s movement was to tear down the societal ableism that separated people with disabilities from society. Before the ADA, the societal attitude was that those with disabilities were not capable of being active members of society. However, there was little effort to even make a meaningful life accessible for ALL citizens. The lack of accessibility for people with disabilities to be active members in their community resulted in segregation and prevented them from the same quality of life granted to other American citizens.

Thanks to the ADA, accessible transportation throughout the community and equal employment opportunities is the mode for people with disabilities to reach their highest potential and have a meaningful quality of life. 

MRI’s services ensure that our persons served build meaningful lives and reach their highest potential. Our CAPS (Community Awareness Possibilities & Support) program is centered around the connection and involvement of persons served with the community and provides opportunities for community members to interact with them. CAPS daily activities includes volunteer work with organizations such as Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army, and the Northeast Community Fund. Additionally, CAPS visits museums, nature reserves, learns about different cultures and explores what the community has to offer.

Paired with this, MRI helps with many aspects of the employment process and assists in securing jobs for persons served both in the community and within MRI. In fact, this is one of the longest-standing services of the agency. Job training and community employment services has been available to the community since 1969, when Macon County Rehabilitation Facilities (MCRF) opened their doors. It was around this time that the movement leading up to the ADA began. Organizations similar to MCRF (later MRI) started arguing for legislative and policy changes to better provide work and rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.

Thanks to the ADA and the enactment of the ADAAA (the ADA Amendments Act of 2008), people with disabilities are now protected from societal discrimination and fully offered equal opportunity employment. Through MRI’s employment services, we uphold the ADA by ensuring that adults with developmental disabilities have access to equal employment opportunities and discovering all they are capable of.

However, community employment and the persons’ served presence in the community wouldn’t be possible without MRI’s fleet of 60+ fully accessible transportation vehicles. The opportunities of where they can go and what they can learn and discover in the community are endless! These vehicles transport persons served to community employment, Jan Pro’s 4 rest areas, shopping, CAPS outings, community events, appointments, and safely back home to 10 community group homes.

The availability of recreational/physical activity, community involvement, equal employment, accessible transportation, and most of all the chance to build a meaningful life are the equal opportunities that America committed to fulfill for ALL of its citizens on July 26th, 1990.

We are proud to celebrate the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act!

Impact Story: Meet Dorothy

Meet Dorothy, a true MRI veteran!
Dorothy has been part of MRI’s programs for almost 25 years. During her time here she has grown into an amazing woman, and we are so excited to share her story.
Watch to find out how we are building meaningful lives!

Macon Birdies Golf Camp

Today, June 21st, was the first day for the Macon Birdies Golf Camp. South Side Country Club has partnered with MRI to sponsor a golf camp for 60 persons served. South Side’s General Manager, Nick Taute, had the idea to offer a one & a half hour long camp that would teach persons served basic golf skills, such as driving, chipping, and putting. Nick along with South Side’s Pro Shop staff, volunteers from the club, the Millikin Golf Team, and MRI Staff. The camp is scheduled to happen again on July 12th, August 16th, & September 27th.

Our persons served had so much fun getting acquainted with basic golf skills! One of our persons served, Carl said,

“For my first time, I did pretty good. It was awesome!”

Many of the other campers mentioned how excited they were to finally be on a real golf course! At the end of each camp lesson, all who participate will receive a customized gift to commemorate their time. Today they received a pair of sunglasses with “Macon Birdies Golf Camp” printed on the side.

We’re excited to watch our persons served enjoy playing golf and improve their skills!

Special thanks to South Side Country Club for hosting this camp and welcoming us to their club!

MRI Celebrates the Start of Construction 30 Years Ago

This June we are celebrating 30 years since construction began at our current MRI facility. MRI has come a long way from being two small non-profit organizations to an organization with extensive programing and services. The merge of Progress Resource Center and Macon County Rehabilitation Facilities, Inc. in 1988, combined the resources of both organizations and made it possible to reach and serve a wider range of individuals with disabilities. From the merge came the opportunity and need for a larger facility to provide enough room for all of the combined programs, services and license plate production.

Progress Resource Center got their start in 1957, as an education training school for children with developmental disabilities. At the time, most public schools weren’t equipped to offer educational training for students with developmental disabilities. It was the parents of these underserved students who saw the desperate need for a school that offered an educational curriculum based around the needs of their children. By the mid to late 70s, the center grew to offer an Infant Program and Day Training Program that focused on life-skills training for adults. 

The second organization in the merge, Macon County Rehabilitation Facilities, Inc. (MCRF) provided rehab services that was oriented towards job training for adults with disabilities. MCRF got their start in 1969 serving 13 individuals, however, by 1972 they grew to provide services for 140 individuals. Their facility provided various services for adults; including Community Living Program, Work Activity Program, Job Seeking Skills, and the Janitorial Program. Along with job training through the Janitorial program, MCRF established work training through obtaining contracts with local businesses. The Job Seeking Skills and Work Activity Programs were established in 1973; and the following year job contracts with Kahlua and Caterpillar were acquired.

In the early 80s, the job market in Decatur began to tighten which meant MCRF’s contracts, job training, and placement programs were negatively impacted. However, in 1983, MCRF began manufacturing all of Illinois’ license plates after winning the bid for the contract in ’82. The following year, through MCRF’s programs, 143 individuals were placed into jobs. From those placements, 119 jobs were through License Plate production.

The two organization’s paths crossed and their journey began in 1981 during a joint work project called Supported Living Arrangement Program. This program provided the tools and education for individuals with physical limitations to become independent and live on their own. This was the start to their future partnership of building meaningful lives for children and adults with both developmental and physical disabilities across Macon County.

Progress Resource Center’s specific training programs focus on life-skills, and MCRF’s focus on job training meant that individuals with disabilities had to travel and attend two separate organizations in order to receive the benefits from both. They realized they could do more and make more of an impactful difference if they merged into one organization that provided both life-skills and job training programs. The merge in 1988 started the constructional planning of a new 100,000 square ft. building that would be the home of Macon Resources, Inc. The construction of a larger facility allowed for there to be enough space for license plate manufacturing, production, the janitorial program, job training, life-skills training, and children’s services all under one roof.

The ground breaking ceremony took place in April of 1991 and construction began in June. By the end of May 1992, everyone was moved into the new building! The union of the two organizations that established MRI and the creation of a new facility presented vast opportunities for bettering the services and programs for individuals with disabilities. Due to combining education/life-skills and job training programs under one organization, MRI has become the largest provider of services in the region that helps individuals to gain independence and self-worth. Our Community Day Services alone provide over 20 programs, along with Social Skills Support, Speech & Language Therapy, Community Involvement, Employment Services, VISIONS Mental Health Program, and Residential Services. Additionally, MRI houses the location of Illinois License Plate Production, Bench Production & Manufacturing, and Jan-Pro whom services the area’s rest stops. 

For our anniversary, we aren’t just celebrating the birthing of a new facility, we are celebrating the opportunities it has given us throughout the years. If it wasn’t for the merging of two organizations that created MRI and created the need for a 100,000 sq. ft. building, then MRI would not have been able to make such an impact on so many lives. These walls represent the building of hundreds and hundreds of lives in the past, present, and future.

Impact Story: Meet Justin

Impact Story: Meet Tim

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, MRI’s April Impact story highlights one of our persons served who has been receiving services for over 20 years!

Meet Tim! Tim was diagnosed with autism at the age of 6. His journey with MRI began in 1999 when he joined the situational assessment program, and shortly after that, he switched to the work assessment program. For all of his adult life, Tim has been highly motivated and has a strong desire to work. In March of 2000, the work assessment program placed him in a community job at a local grocery store. Although he enjoys to work, something didn’t feel right for Tim. It was at this point MRI made a real impact on his life by recognizing that the community job wasn’t a good fit for him. In July of 2002, Tim began his job working in License Plates as a labeler and has been working there ever since.

“My favorite thing about MRI is my job!”

Up until recently when COVID-19 began, Tim was working a lot; at least four days a week! He loves labeling license plates and does it extremely well. Since returning back to MRI from quarantine last year, he has been able to continue working. However, due to COVID restrictions and the decrease in orders, he isn’t able to work as often.

MRI is very thankful to have such a hard working employee like Tim!

Additionally, Tim joined the CDS (developmental training) program in 2002. Since then he has formed bonds with many of his caseworkers and can even remember each and every one of their names. CDS is an environment where he is able to effectively communicate his wants and needs and they are heard and recognized. Moreover, MRI creates an outlet in which Tim can socialize and build lasting friendships.

In his interview, Tim shared and demonstrated a really cool fact about himself. He is able to recall and memorize routes and the road names to get to various destinations. For example, he can recall in detail the route from Illinois to Florida!

Impact Story: Meet Lawrence


Meet Lawrence! Lawrence has received services from MRI for the past 16 years. Everyone who has ever interacted with or heard Lawrence’s story will tell you he has overcome a life-time’s worth of obstacles and has so much to be proud of. MRI is so happy and proud to share Lawrence’s story of becoming independent and living on his own!

When asked about Lawrence, Dominic, Lawrence’s Case Manager, who was his CDS group leader at the time in 2009, shared that when he was born, him and his twin sister were put into the foster care system. Lawrence only knew his twin for a year before they were separated. Growing up not knowing his family created a bitterness inside of Lawrence that made him very weary and distrusting of people. He has had a life-long dream of living independently, however, his attitude was the number one obstacle blocking him from accomplishing his dream.

Nonetheless, as time went on MRI staff, like Dominic, continued to show him love, care, and support that eventually broke down the walls of distrust and bitterness surrounding him. Once he realized that he was loved, valued, and supported, he gained the confidence and ability to interact and communicate with the people who wanted to help make his dreams come true. We asked Lawrence what motivated him to become independent and he told us that he wasn’t thriving in an environment where he lived with others and realized he would be much happier living on his own.  In order to equip Lawrence with the tools needed to successfully live on his own, he was coached and took classes at MRI that taught him household skills, health maintenance, and money management. With the support of his MRI staff, Lawrence was able to take small steps each year towards accomplishing his goal.

Lawrence lived in our Main Street group home for 10 years before moving into an apartment of his own in 2020.

We were told that there was concern that Lawrence would have trouble keeping up with cleaning based on his cleaning habits in the group home. However, when we visited him in his apartment it was immaculate, and yet he was still concerned that it wasn’t clean enough! Likewise, Lawrence had his own concerns about living on his own. At some point earlier in his life he was traumatized by a house fire that electrocuted his brother, and was fearful that something similar would happen in his apartment. In order to overcome this obstacle, he began taking cooking and safety group classes. At first he was quiet and unwilling to participate in class, but now he is interacting and comfortable learning to cook new things. Lastly, being independent and responsible for his own place has taught Lawrence money discipline like the importance of saving, and the difference between wants and needs. Before he lived on his own, he struggled with controlling his spending urges but now he has a savings and his own debit card. Not only is he saving money, but he’s saving money to learn more about and to reconnect with his family.

“My dream is to become my own guardian and to move to Chicago to be with my family.” -Lawrence

While visiting him, Lawrence also told us that his dream is to become his own guardian and to move to Chicago. Over the past few years, he has gathered information about his family with the help of his Direct Support Professional staff member, Cathy. He even got to go to Chicago with her and meet his family for the first time. Dominic also played a large role by providing him support and building his self-esteem by reminding him that he is valuable and worthy of knowing his family. While discovering his family, he became aware that he had another sister who passed away due to an illness. To honor her, Lawrence saved money to be able to get a tattoo on his arm in remembrance of her. He also has a tattoo of his parents! Furthermore, he had recently purchased his mother, father, and sister’s death certificates and is now looking into his parent’s marriage license. Family is tremendously important to Lawrence, and with the help of MRI staff, he has reconnected with his family and is learning as much as he can about them.

It is easy to see how driven Lawrence is, he has not let any of life’s obstacles or burdens keep him from his goals and dreams. Congratulations on becoming independent, Lawrence!

Lawrence wanted to give a special thanks to the many people who helped him get to where he is today. His Case Manager, Dominic, Tonya, who used to work at MRI as the music teacher who really motivated him, his guardian Cathy Sturm, Prairieland staff who helped him along his journey, as well as Cindy Burns and Cathy Davis who advocated for him. He also wanted to thank Jill Blue for always motivating him to keep up his hygiene.







Spread the Word: Inclusion 2021 Connection

Last week, March 3rd, was Spread the Word: Inclusion Day. Spread the Word to End the Word is a campaign with the belief that “the world would be better if ALL people were valued, respected, embraced, and included.” However, the group that lacks inclusion most are individuals with developmental disabilities. This is why each year MRI takes the entire day to spread awareness of inclusion throughout our community and prepare Spread the Word themed activities for our persons served.

Inclusion and connection Inclusion Pledge

The theme for 2021 was Connection. This theme focused on the relationship between individuals who make one another feel seen, heard, and valued. To kick off the day, our persons served created and performed skits that demonstrated how practicing inclusion can build connection. Afterwards, they learned about inclusion and diversity in a Spread the Word themed bingo game. Additionally, colorful Spread the Word cups filled with goodies were passed out as everyone finished filling out their Inclusion pledge. 

Spread the Word to End the Word: Inclusion 2021 Theme Connection

To promote and spread awareness of this campaign in our community, we invited community members and organizations to also make pledges to spread the word of inclusion and to build connection throughout the community. Based on the theme of connection, all of the gathered pledges were written on colorful pieces of paper that were connected based on group home, MRI department, and community organizations.

community inclusion pledges

For the finale, all the inclusion pledge chains from persons served, MRI staff, and several community organizations were all connected to form one long paper chain.   The inclusion paper chain was hung throughout our Community Day Services building to represent how we are all staying connected despite being apart. Each piece of the paper chain had either a person’s pledge on how they will demonstrate inclusion this year or a kind and uplifting commitment to see, hear, and value others.

Although this past year has created much disconnection in our community, it was a powerful reminder and physical representation of how connection can be maintained, renewed, and formed when we all pledge to stand for inclusion!

 connection through inclusion

#NDEAM Spotlight: Meet Shawn

Meet Shawn! Shawn has worked at Walmart for 3 months as a cart retriever. He also assists in carrying out groceries for customers!

Shawn first came to MRI back in 2013. After working a couple of jobs that didn’t work out, Shawn decided that he wanted to go back to school. With help from the Division of Rehabilitation (DRS) and his vocational counselor there, Shawn enrolled at Richland Community College. During his time at Richland he was active in the media club, BDS, and received an outstanding volunteer award. In 2019, Shawn graduated with his Associate’s degree!

After Shawn graduated, he came back to MRI’s Community Employment program and Dee McMillen assisted him in the job process. Dee helped Shawn find businesses that were hiring and assisted him with the application process. Shawn told us how Dee always encouraged Shawn not to give up and keep a positive attitude during his job search and even after he was hired in his current job at Walmart! When Shawn was hired, Dee helped with the new hire paperwork and even spoke to Shawn’s new manager about what would help him be successful in his new job.

Shawn loves his job at Walmart, and having a job in the community makes him feel so happy. He told us how his favorite part is working together as a team and the comradery he feels amongst his co-workers.

We asked Shawn if he had experienced any difficulties working at Walmart and how he handled them. He said,

“I have struggled at times learning the job and keeping the carts in line or keep them from blowing away. With a co-workers help I figured out the best way to do the job and make it easier for me.” – Shawn

Shawn loves working in the community. Without this job he told us he would probably just be sitting at home. We are so glad that Shawn has found a job in the community doing something that he enjoys!

Here are a couple of fun facts about Shawn:

  • If Shawn could learn how to do anything, it would be to learn to drive a car!
  • Shawn’s dream job is to be a Sports Broadcaster

#NDEAM Spotlight: Meet Roger

Meet Roger! Roger has worked at MRI for 34 years and currently works as a License Plate Tech in the Production department. He specifically works on the blanking line, but in the past has worked on roller coating and embossing. Roger knows A LOT about license plates!

We asked Roger why his job is important and he told us how license plates provides a good service for the state, and because if it weren’t for them, no one could drive! We couldn’t agree more.

Roger came to MRI out of high school and entered MRI’s Regular Work Program (now known as Supportive Employment). Before coming to MRI, Roger worked at a daycare at a church in Springfield.

You can tell that Roger really loves his job and is an extremely hard worker. When we asked him what he loved most he said “Everything. The people I work with are easy to get along with. The job is not too stressful” If he could switch jobs with anyone at MRI he definitely would not want to be the boss. Instead, he would want to switch with Dewayne, who is his foreman!

Here are a couple other fun facts we learned about Roger:

  • If Roger had unlimited funds, he said he would invest in something
  • His dream job is the job he’s currently doing at MRI
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