Three Project STIR classmates will receive certificates of completion at the program's first graduation ceremony in Livingston County tonight (Tuesday).
Project STIR (Steps Toward Independence and Responsibility) is a statewide initiative created by Missouri senate bill 40. The program is designed to assist those with developmental disabilities by providing steps toward self-advocacy. The program was brought to Chillicothe thanks to a partnership with Livingston County New Horizons. The 12-14 week class covers a variety of topics including communication, problem solving, responsibilities, self-determination and more.
Chuck Comstock, advocacy specialist for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Development Disabilities, is an area trainer for Project STIR. He has met with classmates once a week for more than three months to discuss the seven chapters of the program. The first chapter helps discover students' strengths and weaknesses.
"This is where the individuals recognize what they like in their lives," Comstock said. "There's a list of what you like and what you don't like. It helps you figure out what's important in your life."
Another facet of chapter one includes the "Island of Calm." Comstock said it is of equal importance to discover what upsets you, and how to relieve that anger or stress.
"It's important for them to find their Island of Calm - whether that's listening to music, or going and being by yourself," Comstock explained. "It's important to find other avenues to channel anger instead of just exploding and getting really upset with people."
Much of Project STIR's teachings involve steps toward better communication, and chapter two deals with the different styles of communication. According to Comstock, students have learned how to communicate not only through speech, but also with actions and facial expressions.
"A lot of this we do through role playing," Comstock said. "We put people in a situation. Maybe you're talking to your boss and you want to change your job, or you don't feel you're being treated fairly. They actually act out what they want."
The third chapter of Project STIR deals with problem solving. Comstock said a great portion of the program focuses on controlling emotions. Keeping calm during difficult situations can help solve problems more efficiently.
"Our big thing is to relax," Comstock said. "If you encounter a problem and you get really, really upset, you don't think clearly."
Chapter four is dedicated to the rights and responsibilities of the students. Comstock said some people living with development disabilities might not realize they have the right to date, get married or vote. This section of the program helps them discover what rights they have, while teaching them the responsibilities that come with those rights.
The fifth chapter focuses on being a better self-advocate. There are five supporting themes to this chapter.
Page 2 of 2 - "There are five principles to self-determination: freedom, support, responsibility, authority and confirmation," Comstock explained. "Each one of them are tied together. People with disabilities have the freedom to live the way they want to live, the authority over your own money, and the support of your friends and community."
Chapter six discusses the importance of an advocacy group. Comstock said the strengths of these groups comes from sharing your aspirations with like-minded individuals to achieve common goals.
"You can take your personal vision, share it with your advocacy group, and it becomes a shared vision to change part of your community," Comstock said.
The final chapter of Project STIR involves the spiral model. Comstock said this model can be used to identify a problem and determine multiple solutions. Comstock used Chilli Bay Water Park as an example.
"We all talked about it, and we agreed that it was important to make that water park accessible for people with wheelchairs," Comstock said. "We talked about who else it affects. If you think about it, it's senior citizens, people with walkers and young children in strollers. We talked about finding out what the 88 codes are and petitioning people in the community. We brainstormed solutions and figured out who we would contact."
Following graduation, Comstock hopes graduates of the program will strive to become positive role models in their communities.
"The goal is to be better self-advocates within their community," Comstock explained. "I know Chillicothe doesn't have a self-advocacy group. Maybe they get involved with a self-advocacy group. Maybe they could help teach it, and get involved with the next class we have."
The Project STIR graduation ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening (Tuesday) inside the meeting room at the Farm Credit Services Financial office in Chillicothe.