Developmental Disabilities Month - Putnam Sentinel
Pictured above are members of People First of Putnam County, along with members of the Putnam County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and the county commissioners during the signing of the proclamation declaring March Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in the State of Ohio.

PUTNAM COUNTY — March is Developmental Disabilities Month throughout the State of Ohio. In addition to a number of events planned throughout the state, the awareness month offers the opportunity to learn more about the issues and opportunities that are of interest to those with DD. And, in particular, for those who are active in the self-advocacy group, People First.

To do so, the Sentinel spoke with Christine Smith with the Putnam County Board of Developmental Disabilities, first asking how the annual spaghetti fundraiser, held earlier in February went this year.

“It went well,” she says. “I was a little concerned, at first, because we didn’t get as many numbers as I thought we would in the beginning. Then, of course, they start filtering-in near the deadline.”

According to Smith, People First’s Spaghetti Fundraiser served a total of 89 meals, earning the group $685 after expenses. Ingredient donations from IGA and Ted’s Market helped with the costs.

“Anytime we can make a profit, it’s a good thing.” Smith says, “It’s less money that comes out of the individual’s pockets when it comes to conferences and trainings. Because that’s why we do the fundraisers.”

The People First conference that takes place semi-annually in Columbus is one of the main events for which fundraisers such as the spaghetti dinner help to defray costs. With another being Synergy, a yearly multi-day conference that takes place typically in the fall and is organized by the Ohio Self Determination Association (OSDA) and Professionals, Advocates, Resources (PAR Ohio). There are additional trainings and opportunities throughout the year for which fundraising may be used to help reduce costs for Putnam County People First attendees.

“That’s where they learn to be better advocates,” Smith said of the conferences. “Not only for themselves, but for their peers. It also gives the confidence that they can run for offices here locally, and hopefully, eventually through the state.”

The goal is certainly not unrealistic, with local People First Board Member, Stephen Courtney, currently serving as Secretary on the state board as well.

“It’s pretty much our ‘Mission Statement,’ ” Smith answers when asked what the priorities of People First will likely be for the year. “Their priorities are always to help themselves and other individuals with disabilities have a voice. And, have that voice be heard. And then, giving back. That is a big desire of theirs. Some of the things that we put into our fundraisers are ‘giving back’ projects. In fact, the next one on the books, though they haven’t finalized it yet, is Relay for Life - to have a team and be part of that again.”

“The other thing that we’re looking at for DD Awareness is they want to do something to incorporate donating books, once a year, to all of the local schools and to the library’s main branch [in Ottawa].”

“They really want to help educate young children. So that they understand that just because there are differences, it doesn’t mean that [those with DD] are treated any differently. What they would like to do is, every March, to coincide with DD awareness, they want to donate a book regarding a disability of some kind.”

Currently, People First donates a book in honor of community member when they pass away. This program will continue, with the new program providing a regular consistency to the book donations as well.

This year’s book has not yet been selected. People First will hold a officers meeting on March 12, and select the title for this year at that time. The books will then be ordered and delivered to all area schools and the library at a later date.

As part of Developmental Disabilities month, a proclamation signing was held at the County Commissioner’s Office on Tuesday, March 5. During the signing, the Sentinel asked the local People First representatives present what they would like the people of Putnam County to know about themselves, their community, and DD awareness.

“That we are their for them,” answered Jim Burkhart, a Pandora native well known for providing support to Pandora-Gilboa’s sports teams over the years. “We put a lot of hours in doing this, like out at Brookhill. We’re not dumb people. We’re smart.”

“I’m proud to be able to represent the county,” added Stephen Courtney, who serves as Secretary on People First’s statewide board. “And, other counties around [the area] in the high state level. Doing everything in the state to help out, and helping to put Ottawa on the map.”