Each morning that Manson Davis assembles a small crew to pick up trash scattered along the roadside, his focus has less to do with the immediate goal of filling plastic bags. By building on smaller successes, Davis is interested in changing people’s lives.
For two years now, Davis has worked with Oak-Leyden Developmental Services in Oak Park and helps run a program intended to help mentally retarded adults live more independently. Several hours each morning, six days a week, Davis and a half-dozen of Oak-Leyden’s clients comb the sidewalks along Madison Street for broken glass, discarded cigarette packs and other trash that’s often left by late night revelers bouncing from pub to pub. The program has been around for at least six years now and is coordinated with the help of the public works department in Forest Park.
“I love it,” Davis said of his impact. “It gives me something to look forward to when I come to work.”
Though it’s a small step, Oak-Leyden’s recent agreement with the village to expand the program onto Harlem Avenue is exactly the type of progress the organization hopes to see in its clients. Since the end of July, Oak-Leyden has been sending crews to work along the traffic-heavy corridor.
“As they develop other skills they’re challenged with more intensive activity,” Ken Cheatham, Jr., director of Oak-Leyden’s employment services program said.
The roadside cleanup program is a middle tier of sorts before Cheatham begins contacting area businesses to help the developmentally disabled land jobs in the private sector. Clients start out in workshop programs learning to master basic skills and behavior before being placed in a more demanding setting, such as one of Davis’ cleanup crews.
During a recent breakfast meeting between Oak-Leyden and village officials, there was talk of expanding the program to include snow removal for elderly residents in Forest Park. Public Works Director Bob Kutak said the feedback he has received from business owners and residents has been very positive. At the same time his department’s employees are freed to tackle other tasks, the village is able to partner with a public service agency.
“They’re just amazed that they’re out there everyday of the week, six days a week,” Kutak said.