“Our greatest gift is to be friends with the people we serve.” Cardinal Services is Leading the Way to Equity and Inclusion in Kosciusko County
The anthem of Cardinal Services is, “Everyone deserves the right to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life.” This nonprofit has been serving Kosciusko County for decades with day services, transportation, and an incredible vision for the future. Cardinal Services provides services for individuals with disabilities and received an Operation Round Up grant from Kosciusko REMC to further their impact. Learn more about how they’re making a difference in this Q&A with Executive Director Vickie Lootens.
KREMC Interviewer: Your Operation Round Up grant went to support your performing arts club room. Can you tell me more about this need in the community and how Operation Round Up is helping it thrive?
Vickie Lootens: I looked back at the history, and I want to preface how much we appreciate KREMC. A lot of times, we only need a few thousand dollars to fill a gap or do something special for our programs and the people we serve. We utilize it so much! The performing arts is one I’m really excited about because we have our capital campaign going on. Part of our vision is, cosmetically, it’s going to look better because we’ve been in this building since 1967, and nothing has been done to it.
The renovations are a need, but we’re creating a community center. In that community center, we’ll have club rooms for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The club rooms started out with culinary arts, Red Bird Art Studio, tech labs, fitness and wellness, and garden club. We had a few club rooms we had identified so that when they come in for day services, they have more of a meaningful day.
The whole intent was to get the community involved. Red Bird Art Studio – our inspiration for starting these club rooms – was established in 2016, and we found what we call “reverse integration.” With the Red Bird, we saw more and more of the community coming in, sitting alongside the people we serve. Now, all of a sudden, the community is looking at them not as an individual with a disability, but as fellow artists. There’s commonality, and relationships begin to be created.
This reverse integration is what we have found to be the secret of engaging the community and helping our folks become members of the community because they are and they have every right to be involved in the community like everyone else, but maybe don’t have the wherewithal or opportunities to join a club or go to a church because of transportation and other barriers that cause our individuals to be isolated.
Performing arts is one of the club rooms. The Jesters are a theater group of individuals that have intellectual and developmental disabilities that perform. I went to see one of their performances, and I was amazed. We contracted with the leader and her group, Indigo Group. She comes here on Wednesdays, not only providing instruction and guidance to our individuals but also to our staff. She’s training the trainer, so when she’s not here, our direct support professionals are able to keep that club room going daily.
The cost to have that is how KREMC has been able to supplement this. This allows us to do extra that takes our program from being a day program to being a premiere day program and gives our participants more opportunities.
We’re also working with Wagon Wheel. With performing arts, there’s so much that falls under that umbrella. Some are interested in behind-the-scenes, some want to act, some want to sing, and some want to dance. We have individuals that also are interested in instruments, so we do that class as well. There are so many different things that we’re starting because the impact has been substantial, and we have so much interest because performing arts is a broad area. We have dozens of individuals that participate in this program each week.
KREMC Interviewer: How does the performing arts club room reflect your heart for Cardinal Services?
VL: Our purpose statement is to lead the way to 100% equity, inclusion, and access for people with disabilities, families, and communities. That inclusion and access piece aligns with what our purpose is for the performing arts club room.
Every day, I am surprised by something. Someone that’s nonverbal and not the happiest started doing performing arts, and now we see that he has a smile on his face every day and is more engaging with his eyes and his body language. Finding that special something that really helps the individual come out of their shell – it’s their interest. That’s what’s so difficult for many folks that we serve – they don’t have the ability to express themselves directly. By doing the club rooms, we give people an opportunity to try out different things and find out where their interest lies.
KREMC Interviewer: How has the performing arts club specifically helped the individuals you serve?
VL: Many times, we can ask, “What do you want?” but they’re not sure until they try it, just like I’m not sure if I like something until I try it. We thought we had the club rooms all figured out, but the people we serve have now taken ownership and have told us they want a weather club, a literacy club, a Bible club, and a Lego club. They have a Good Samaritan club where they go out and volunteer because they want to give back.
One day, they made dog treats in the culinary arts room, and then they went to Animal Welfare League and gave them out. It’s important for them to be active members. We’re teaching them that it’s as important to give as it is to receive from others. They want to be independent. The individuals we serve want everything we want. They have interests, desires, and personalities. Performing arts has been great for mental health because they get to express themselves. COVID was very hard for our individuals, and depression set in. We have more mental health illnesses than we had pre-pandemic. This is an opportunity to help individuals express themselves.
KREMC Interviewer: What role has the Operation Round Up grant played in this project and its impact?
VL: KREMC has always been very receptive. Knowing this was going to have such a community impact, I felt like this was the perfect match, and we really appreciate it. The grant does so much for us because it fills a gap that we do not have otherwise. It takes us from providing services and meeting standards to being a premier because we can do extra things that are meaningful to our folks. To me, the impact is huge, and it’s because KREMC is so responsive.
I got to know KREMC well through the Kosciusko Human Resources Association. KREMC is so community-focused, and we’ve seen them bring the community together. That represents exactly what Kosciusko County is like. Kosciusko County is very philanthropic and very unique. There are so many amazing organizations in our area, and I can’t think of one that isn’t deserving. KREMC has helped us on the health end through past grants, and with community engagement. When I think of KREMC, I think of community. We have so many businesses, but KREMC is one that sticks out.
KREMC Interviewer: What’s ahead for the performing arts club?
VL: I want the performing arts club to be on the map of Kosciusko County like Red Bird is. We’re finding where everyone’s interests are, and now we’re going to be creating a group that will provide shows on the road for Northern Indiana. There will be some from Cardinal and some from organizations that we’re aligned with. Together, they’ll be like the A-Team going around and getting involved with the Wagon Wheel. We’ve got great momentum with this, and I think there will be many more exciting things to come.
KREMC Interviewer: How can the community help Cardinal Services beyond contributing to the Operation Round Up grant?
VL: We serve 6,000 people annually in nine counties, but the majority are here in Kosciusko County. This is our home. We always need people to contact me so they can come in and take a tour. We need people to be ambassadors who are willing to bring in people to learn more. It’s all part of our outreach and education. No one is asking for money – if people want to get involved after that, absolutely, but we’re more about creating community awareness.
We’ve been here since 1954, and every time we do those follow-up calls, the number one comment is, “I didn’t realize you did all that.” That’s because we administer Head Start, Healthy Families, and public transportation. Beyond our core services of working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we do so much more.
We need volunteers and supply donations and gifts according to the time of the year. The majority of our programs are losing money, and we depend on community support. We feel very blessed because we have 167 members in our society, and that’s a 5-year pledge commitment.
The community can come in and teach a class, whether it’s cooking a meal with some participants or doing a spa day or crocheting or playing the piano, and singing songs. Everyone has some cool, unique talent or gift, so it’s whatever the volunteer wants to do, and then we can match them up with the club room. If you like to read, come in and do some storytelling. We don’t need to do any other work beyond that because our participants will do what they need to do to make volunteers want to come back because they’re so engaging and happy and excited to get to do these unique things.
A lot of people think it’s about the money, but it’s really about the friendships and the community engagement with our folks. Our greatest gift is to be friends with the people we serve.
Learn more about Operation Round Up.