“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Amy Bliefnick first heard Special Olympics’ motto as a freshman in high school. She immediately committed it to memory.
“My dad started the Special Olympics Games for Central Illinois in 1972,” Bliefnick recalled. “I volunteered by cheering on participants at the finish line and fell in love with the people and their can-do attitude. They ran as hard as they could.”
Today, Bliefnick is still cheering on people with disabilities in her role as president and CEO of Macon Resources Inc., a Decatur, Illinois, nonprofit that promotes the growth, independence and self-worth of children and adults with disabilities. And decades later, reminders of Special Olympics still surround Bliefnick. She simply walks Macon Resource’s halls or looks outside to see them.
“Many of our clients participate in the games, and we host basketball and softball practices and field days on our grounds,” said Bliefnick.
Along with promoting athletics, Macon Resources leads several initiatives, including its Community Day Services program, to empower clients. Regions Bank recently donated $10,000 to support the independence that’s a key result of the program. Specifically, Regions’ contribution will provide mobility devices offering clients easier access when visiting grocery stores, parks and other destinations. To many, the devices may look like a simple aid in mobility. But to those who depend on them, they’re life changing – and life empowering.
“The Macon Resources team encourages people with disabilities to do and achieve their best,” said Bart Rose, Central Illinois market executive for Regions Bank. “You can feel a sense of what’s possible as soon as you set foot on their campus. We’re proud to support this program as a way to help Macon Resource’s clients gain greater access and independence and learn valuable skills.”
Like other nonprofits, Macon Resources faced a new set of challenges amid COVID-19. But Bliefnick and team quickly found new ways to maintain connections with clients, both virtually and socially distanced in person.
That meant a lot to Macon Resources clients. It meant even more to Macon Resources team members.
“Our staff drove to our clients’ homes and parked in their driveways to see them,” said Bliefnick. “Everyone was crying. We all realized just how much we had missed each other.”
The pandemic also provided an opportunity to reimagine the Community Day Services program to make it even more impactful.
“COVID offered us a chance to reset,” Bliefnick explained. “Our case managers have always worked with our clients to develop personalized plans and set goals, but we have become even more focused on providing experiences that benefit them – physically, emotionally, socially and creatively.”
That’s included adding an art studio complete with a kiln for pottery classes, a baking kitchen and Meaningful Meadows, a 1.5-acre interactive outdoor activity area featuring a mural clients created, among other amenities.
It’s also involved supporting clients who are able to work. People like Amanda, who holds a variety of paid jobs.
“Amanda has never let her physical disability stop her,” said Bliefnick. “Actually, she doesn’t let anything stop her! You can see the pride she has in working more and earning a paycheck. She’s really blossomed.”
To help Amanda and other clients stretch their paychecks, Regions will soon virtually present the bank’s Money Basics for Life financial education program. The cost-free module, part of Regions’ Next Step curriculum and specifically developed for people with disabilities, encourages people to bank independently and with ease.
“Making wise financial decisions is one of the first steps on the road to independent living,” said Kathy Lovell, disability services and outreach manager for Regions. “It also empowers people with disabilities with the ability to live life to their fullest potential. We’re looking forward to delivering this program to Macon Resources clients as a way to provide shared value to our community and support our core values of doing what is right and making life better for all.”
As Macon Resources begins to welcome back more clients, Bliefnick reflects on how fortunate she is to be in a role that encourages people to focus on their abilities rather than disabilities.
“This is more than a job; this is a passion for me,” she said. “I truly believe this is my mission.”
As for the clients Macon Resources serves?
“They make me a better person every single day,” said Bliefnick. “Their spirit, their joy, their sense of accomplishment are all an inspiration. Our clients really encourage and support each other. If everyone were more like them, the world would be a better place.”
A place like Macon Resources – where bravery is on full display.