"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." — Mahatma Gandhi
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St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, Robyn's Story
Meet Robyn Heath who successfully moved from intern to employee.
On a frigid February morning, the sun streams through the windows of Debbie Geppert’s first grade classroom at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School on Chicago’s north side. It may be cold outside, but in the classroom the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, as the students work on a journal assignment. The prompt is to write about ideas for how to help the homeless in the bitterly cold weather, and one by one the small writers approach classroom assistant Robyn Heath for guidance.
Robyn, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, has been working at St. Ben’s since January 2018. A longtime client at the Countryside-based Center for Independence, Robyn had been looking for work and not having much luck, when CFI director Patti Herbst had a brainstorm. Herself a graduate of St. Ben’s, Herbst and Teaching Together contacted St. Ben’s Principal Rachel Gemo to inquire about a placement for Robyn -- who lives with her parents just six blocks away.
Gemo signed on immediately, and Robyn became the first person with a disability on the school’s staff.
It fits with our mission of who we say we are... rooted in the Catholic faith
that all are welcome. It’s our job to educate all students, and I think it is important for kids to grow up with all kinds of people, so that they are accepting and learn to appreciate all life, and that everyone is a person of dignity and worth." — Rachel Gemo, Principal at St. Benedict Preparatory
Robyn now works four mornings a week at St. Ben’s, helping the first graders with reading and writing and other lessons, reading aloud during story time, and helping Geppert with administrative tasks.
The school made some small modifications to accommodate her wheelchair, such as putting bungee cords on interior door handles, so that Robyn can pull the doors shut as she moves around the school. But for the most part the transition has been very smooth.
“At the beginning of the school year they had questions,” she says of the students--”like, ‘Why are you in a wheelchair? Why can’t you walk?’ And I would just say, ‘My muscles work differently. I was born this way.’” Now, she says, the kids accept her without question.
Robyn has one year of elementary education coursework under her belt at Wilbur Wright College, and would like to return to school soon. Ultimately, she’d like to be a classroom teacher herself.
Let's Teach Together!
Teaching Together has successfully (and proudly) helped young adults gain skills they are now using as paid employees. We’d love to talk to you about how we can work together to improve the lives of those living with daily challenges!
Teaching Together Chicago is a program of Center for Independence through Conductive Education Inc., an Illinois nonprofit under Section 501 C 3 of the Internal Revenue Code. The mission of the Center is to help people with disabilities achieve their highest level of potential.
Learn more about the Center.