As I write, it is the evening of the third day of the second week of my job.
Yes, that's right. I have taken a job. Full-time, show-up-at-the-office-every-day work.
Some may say, "Chapman, at your age, why not retire? Why not enjoy life? You've earned it."
Well then, "some" would be wrong. They know me not. I may have earned my leisure yet I am not yet ready to cash out that particular asset from life's bank account.
After nearly ten years as publisher of the Post Bulletin Co. -- more than 48 years in the newspaper industry -- I am taking, as poet Robert Frost wrote, the road less traveled:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Herald-News headline announced, "I wanted something meaningful to do." The daily newspaper where I once was publisher was generous in its coverage about my new job. The sub-head of the feature story drove home the point, "Not ready to retire, Joliet man now serves those with disabilities."
On April 3, I began my role as the newly appointed President and CEO of the Center for Disability Services in Joliet. CDS serves more than 300 individuals annually who have challenges to their abilities, be they physical, developmental or both.
Formerly known as United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois Prairieland, the organization, founded in 1955, disaffiliated with national UCP in 2014. The board of directors chose to expand services well beyond CP to include Down syndrome, epilepsy and autism. Many CDS individuals possess multiple disorders.
How did I come to the position? "By divine intervention and dumb luck," so declares the interim CEO, a ultra-devoted board member who filled the role for nearly six months during the CEO search.
As I became re-engaged in Joliet society, I let it be known that I was eager to find "something meaningful" to do. Friends in the right places heard the beat of my tom-tom.
Pre-Rochester, I had volunteered at the organization when CDS was still UCP. Current board members remembered. The surprise of my availability became a movement. The president of the board and the interim CEO came at me with a happy hammer-and-tong. With time on my hands, leadership and development abilities to share, and an enthusiasm for the CDS mission, who was I to refuse?
Truly, the job is a grand gift to me. The CDS building, the former Reedswood Elementary School, has two components: a state-funded and well-equipped special-needs school for individuals ages 3 to 22, and a developmental training facility for adults. I step inside the door every morning to feel a positive vibe of passion and purpose that I would wish upon any job-holder.
Additionally, CDS owns and operates four independent living homes staffed with caring caregivers. Complementing the work of CDS is after-school and in-home respite services for parents and guardians.
An extra dimension
Facing the board of directors during the job interview, one asked of my experience and exposure with persons with challenges to their abilities. What did I know about the life of those who are challenged every day to optimize their lives?
My mind and memory flew back to my nephew Kendrick, born in 1988 when Sheryl and I lived in upstate New York. "Li'l K" was born with an acute, undiagnosed birth defect. He never matured beyond six months, passing sweetly at about age two.
Fortuitously my sister Sharon is a nurse. She and her husband Fernando could not have been more devoted to their first-born. The strong family of three visited Sheryl and me in New York. For a long, precious weekend, we became Kendrick's respite caregivers so his parents could have much-needed time for themselves.
It wasn't much of an experience, this brief yet profound exposure. A silver-framed photo of Kendrick lies upon my CDS desk.
Moving forward, I now have an extra dimension to bind the space between us. From time-to-time, I will share insights with readers about my awareness and understanding of issues surrounding individuals with disabilities.