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Michael Zlody and the Mercy Centre…

While attending college, I spent two years working with a friends’ brother with Down Syndrome.  I met with Michael twice a week to help him stay active by swimming and lifting weights.  What started out as a way to help support myself while going to school turned into a wonderful friendship.  I found myself missing Michael today and stumbled across a photo essay I did of him and the school he attended as a child, that at the time was having financial troubles. I shot the photo essay below for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette; below is the text I wrote to accompany the photos.  Even though I was the one “helping” Michael, in the end he gave and taught me more about life than I could ever return in our time together.

Michael Zlody

Michael P. Zlody, wakes up every Monday morning tired, but ready for the day’s work and the week ahead.  Just like most in their late thirties, he worries about his weight; and does what he can to stay in shape and stay away from that extra donut in the morning.  He belongs to a bowling league, the Knights of Columbus, and enjoys an active life that includes time for dating, his family and the occasional word search.  In most regards Michael enjoys a relatively normal life, despite the added bit of information on his 21st chromosome, which resulted in him being born with Down Syndrome.  For many individuals of Michael’s generation being born with a developmental disability like Down Syndrome, would likely have led to a life of institutionalization or becoming a ward of the state.  Luckily for Michael his parents had no such intentions and made sure that he had the same opportunities and expectations as his brother and sisters.

Being raised in a loving and supporting family environment did much to foster the independent spirit and lifestyle that Michael currently enjoys.  However, his family was not alone in trying to raise a child with special educational needs; the Mercy Centre became an equally important and integral part of not only educating Michael, but providing him with the necessary resources to lead the life of a productive member of society.  The Sisters of Mercy and Catholic Charities opened the school in 1960 and later started the Adult Services program for people over the age of twenty-two with developmental disabilities, providing a necessary alternative to the public school system and other state sponsored programs.

Michael started at the Mercy Centre thirty-five years ago, at the age of three, in the now discontinued preschool program, and after graduating he has worked twice a week in the Adult Services program.  The school and the Adult Services program enjoy a strong sense of community within itself, and in the Worcester community.  It is a place where students are provided an environment that has the necessary resources to foster their individual educational and developmental needs.  The school provides all of the state sanctioned educational requirements, but is also able to provide unique and necessary additional supplements to the student’s general education and development in the form of speech, musical, physical, and occupational therapies.  After graduating from the school program at the age of twenty-two students have the opportunity to join the Adult Services program, which helps to assist individuals with employment and provides a job coach/advocate, as well as providing a variety of program sponsored work opportunities in the community.

With the assistance of the Adult Services program and a Job Coach, Bruce Nelson, Michael has worked at the Goretti’s Supermarket in Millbury for the last ten years; his job duties include building maintenance, janitorial services, and bagging groceries.  He currently lives with two other roommates in a Seven Hills Foundation owned home.  Seven Hills Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides housing and advocacy for individuals with mental retardation and associated developmental disabilities in and around the Worcester area, along with a host of other programs to assist children and adults.

Michael and the greater Worcester community have had an invaluable resource available to them in the form of the Mercy Centre and its staff over the last forty-six years.  Hopefully, with the continued support of families, individuals and organizations in the area, the school can raise the necessary funds in the next two years to continue providing a valuable and necessary educational and occupational service to the community.  Without it, members of the next generation may not grow-up to enjoy as independent and productive a life as Michael Zlody.

I wrote the above text four years ago, and thankfully the Mercy Centre is still in operation today; thanks to the friends and families of the Mercy Centre and the community of Worcester.

Taking a break to catch his breath, between laps, Michael adjusts his goggles in the Clark University pool.

Michael retires to his room for the evening to watch an episode of, "The Dukes of Hazard", one of his favorite shows to watch before wrestling on Monday nights.

Michael, jokes around after a meal with two of his sisters, Tina (center) and Sarah. His family is very involved in his life, and tries to make as many opportunities in their busy lives to have him over for dinner.

Michael, sweeps up the back storage rooms in Goretti's Supermarket, in Millbury, Massachusetts.

Michael says he enjoys bagging because, "I get to be nice to the customers". He has been employed at Goretti's Supermarket for 10 years, and works there three days a week doing janitorial and maintenance services, as well as bagging groceries.

On a date with his girlfriend, Stephanie Rotti, of Worcester, at Showcase Cinemas North, Michael watches "Medeas Family Reunion". Because neither of them has a drivers license the couple only goes on dates about once a month with Stephanie's sister and brother-in-law.

Mercy Centre

15-year old, Rafael, stands next to one of many signs around the Mercy Centre that express the students and faculties desire to save their school; while he waits for his choir class to begin.

Rachel (right), 20, laughs as her teacher, MaryAnn Bardier(not pictured), reads a book during Speech class, while Eric listens in.

Music Therapist, Monica Villanueva (right), prompts Stephen (left), 15, to tell her what happens next in the story; while his classmate Robert (center) plays the drums. The music therapy sessions are a means of getting non-verbal students to express themselves in non-traditional and traditional means of communication; e.g. singing, musical instruments, and rhyming. The Mercy Centre is one of a handful of schools in the country that offer Music Therapy to students.

Angelo Garofalo (right), Adapted Physical Education Teacher, encourages and assists 12-year old Keegan to climb the stairs to get to his first class of the day.

Amandajean (center), 21, jumps into the center of a group jump rope in Angelo Garofalo's (right-center) first gym class of the day.

1 reply »

  1. Excellent Blog. I am involved with the Friends of Mercy Centre and am currently building their website. I was wondering if you might be willing to email me to discuss using some of the content of this blog in the site.

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