“People with disabilities have everything to lose.”
Meet the Jennings Family
In the blink of an eye, Cindy Jennings recalls, her “family of four living on $120,000 a year turned into a family of three barely subsisting above the poverty line.” Divorce, after 25 years of marriage, left Cindy emotionally and financially devastated. “He just didn’t want to be part of this family anymore,” Cindy says of her ex-husband.
Though Cindy had graduated from college with honors and worked full-time while her husband finished his degree, she stopped working when the couple’s first child was born with medical problems, including a chromosomal disorder, autism and intellectual disabilities. “One of us needed to be at home at the time,” Cindy explains, “and I have been for Matthew’s whole life.”
Matthew, now 23, has made strides in his development, thanks to services provided through Medicaid. “Matthew is able to go to a day program,” Cindy says, “which has enabled me to get a part-time job.” He has also received a communication device and other supports he needs to work as an independent contractor for the Arc of Lancaster County, where he interviews people who have disabilities.
“This is a step in the right direction for Matthew,” Cindy says. “I want him to be accepted and valued by the community. Because Matthew can’t be left alone, I am somewhat handicapped myself; I can’t work full-time, even though I would gladly take responsibility for all his care. The truth is, I can’t do it all on my own. And as Matt ages, his care is more challenging, and I’m aging, too.
“Right now, there are waiting lists in Pennsylvania for people like Matthew who need services,” she says. “People with disabilities have everything to lose. How can cutting funding be good for Pennsylvania?”
Cindy worries about what’s in store for Matthew and his brother, Steven, who just turned 21 and is in college. “These boys are as different as night and day,” she says, “but my hopes for them are the same: to be happy, to be healthy, and to do work that’s meaningful to them and allows them to give back to the community.”