Ray Loomis: Jefferson Award Winner

Ray Loomis: No, I don't feel like I'm different from anybody. I feel like I'm just like, just like anybody else. Like, I go play at night, I work the day. Work 40 hours a week and maybe 34, 35 hours a week. Come home. My family's waiting for me. Do the same process the next day. No, I think I'm – I'm human just like anybody else. And I want to be treated like the rest.

Betty Shapiro: Chances are good you've never known or had a real conversation with a person who was mentally retarded. So tonight we're going to give you an opportunity to listen. We're going to give you the chance to wipe out all those myths and stereotypes that you've accumulated over the years and to formulate some new ideas. We'll introduce you to some of the members of the self-help group called Project II and to the man who made it all possible, Mr. Ray Loomis, our Jefferson Award winner of 1979.

[ Music ]

Narrator: Project II is composed predominantly of mentally retarded adults who come together in meetings like this one to learn about their rights, to share each other's problems, and to enjoy the friendships they have formed. The concept of this group was the brainchild of Ray Loomis, a man who spent 15 long years in the Beatrice State Developmental Center, where scenes like these were not uncommon. For Ray, and for other members of the group who have lived in institutions, the memory of that experience will always be strong.

Ray Loomis: If I’d express it, you would cut the camera but Beatrice ain't no place for nobody, and Beatrice, to me, felt like it was a jail, locked up and they must had threw the keys away but they didn't. Didn't have your freedom, your rights was taken.

Narrator: Didn't feel very much like a human being there, huh?

Ray: No, you don't feel like a human being. Feel like some kind of an animal.

Narrator: How about education, Jack? Has anybody –

Jack Conrad: It really wasn't an education out there at all. It's more like a playhouse. You go in one room, about two minutes you're outside playing games with some girls. You are jumping rope, then you're back inside in a different room looking at a different picture – a couple of pictures on the wall. Then you're back outside playing some kind of games again.

Ollie Rector: And I work in the hospital and I take care of little babies, these waterheads and everything else.

Narrator: What did you learn when you were there?.

Ollie: I learned a lot myself. I teach myself to take care of the babies, you know. Give'em love and take care of 'em and everything. The people bring the babies out and leave 'em – leave 'em in that place, and we want them – little babies, and they don't come back to see 'em no more. And some – some of 'em need love.

Narrator: Sure.

Ollie: You know.

Narrator: So you were like a mother to them... Yep. waiting on them.

Ollie: Yep. And there was someone – one of the main ones come up to me – to, you know, looking in the door, everyone know me when I walk in, and them laughing and cutting – I'm cutting up with 'em and everything. One time, I really had the an experience and I said –it was a waterhead. This little baby is going to be lost. I passed it to myself, and I got to it. And his head looked funny to me.

Narrator: Uh-huh.

Ollie: And I went out and got the nurse. I said this baby's head looks like it's going to bust, you know, and it did. The water ____?____ way around it. It bust. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't sleep a darn bit. It lived to the next day until ten-o-clock, and everything and now on, I watch, you know, to see anything else happen to 'em, a lot of things.

Jack: A lot of people don't really know what's going on out there because it – there's a – one day I was there, the kids – I took a little boy up there. He looked at me and says, "That ain't my mom and dad." I says, "Yes, it is." He said, "No, it ain't my mom and dad."

He was there ever since he was a little baby and he didn't know his own mother and father.

Narrator: Uh-huh

Jack: And another thing they'll take them over there. They sit them and watch them while they have company. I don't think that's being fair, either, to these clients. I think they should be treated like human beings instead of being treated like some little child. I think they should be able to get out and make like the rest of us. I don't think they should be locked up in a place like that. If parents really knew what their kids was going through out there, I don't think they'd put 'em in there at all.

John McGill: I think Project II is going to have a tremendous impact in the future. Self-advocacy is really, probably the most exciting thing that's going on right now in human services, despite all the technological advances and research advances and new developments in the way services are provided. I think at the – the key to that is self-advocacy and the fact that people are now standing up for their own rights and doing that in a very sophisticated way.

Narrator: Do you think they're going to have any real political clout?

John: I don't know whether political clout is necessarily the issue that they're going to be strongest in, but certainly they're going to play a very key role in – in bringing about some very important changes. For example, the Beatrice State Home, I think they're going to play a very important role in the movement of people out of the Beatrice Home. Not necessarily from a political standpoint or not necessarily from a service standpoint, but probably, most importantly, from an attitudinal standpoint.

Professionals and parents and advocates and legislators can argue the Beatrice State Home issue forever, but nobody can argue with Ray Loomis when he stands up and says, "I lived at Beatrice for 15 years and I think it's a crummy place for people to live."

Even if you make – spend millions of dollars in the institution making it a prettier place, it's still an institution.

Narrator: There is by no means unanimity among the members of Project II as to whether or not Beatrice should be closed, but all agree that there are many people still in Beatrice who are capable of living on their own.

Ray: My group, it's a risk to be in the Beatrice State Home. Want to know what is going to go on with the Beatrice State Home.

Dave Newell: I personally think there is some need for some patients to be served in Beatrice. And I also favor very strongly the community-based programs. The problem we have is funding. The state, I think, has a responsibility to come up with more funds but we can't write a blank check and that's one of the difficulties we have in this whole area.

[Background talking]

Speaker: I didn't like it out there.

Dave: You didn't like it?

Speaker: No!

Jack: A lot of 'em out there, it's been there, it shouldn't even be there, really. They're human beings just like the rest of us. I don't see why they should be out there when they could be out here making money, making a living for the rest of their selves.

Dave: How many people here came from Beatrice? Okay. Now, you're from North Fork. Is there any... How many other people came from other institutions other than – other than – what institutions did you come from?

[ Audio unintelligible ]

Dave: Regional center?

Unidentified speaker: Yeah.

Dave: Okay. Is it the feeling of most of this group that – that – that Beatrice was not as helpful in terms of

Unidentified speaker: Yeah, it wasn't helpful.

Dave: How many people feel that way? I'd like to see a show of hands.

Many unidentified speakers saying: “I do”..

Unidentified speaker: I agree with that...

[ People talking at the same time ]

Mrs. White: I had two kids up -- down there so I know a little bit about it.

Tom Houlihan: I have a question...

Dave: Okay.

Ben Houlihan: I had never lived in Beatrice for many a year, never been in Beatrice. I've been in the community a lot. And I love it, you know, in the community. I'm around friends. About half of these people are from Beatrice. Now I don't know about their feelings but my feelings are very strong in my own life, in the community, I want it to be like that until the day I do die.

How do you feel about that?

Dave: Well, I agree with you.

Unidentified Speaker: All right.

Dave: The thing of it is – you know, how can you argue with that? I mean, I mean, I'd have to be the most callous individual in the world to say, "I think you ought to, you know, go to an institution and stay there." I think anybody that can function or can learn to function in a community or base situation ought to have that opportunity. And I think that's exactly the thing.

I'm just saying, my only argument is over how many people are here or there, and I'm not going to – I'm not saying I'm not willing to talk about numbers. I want to set some sort of – some other criteria other than just, you know, everyone should be in, everyone should be out, this is all white, all black, it's not...

Inez Edwards: I didn't get to go outside, any time, any situation, no. I had to stay right there and do the work, which was untidy wards. I had to strap them poor patients down day in and day out, night in and night out, in their bed and on the chair, on the bench.

Mrs. White: What I was going to say now, would be a good suggestion, is to invite the superintendent, Wyatt, up here and let them – let him know how all of these that are out here workin' and able to make a little money for themselves feel about being out outta there and being more independent then have to be down there doing their dirty work.

Unidentified Speaker: Yeah.

Dave: Well, that's one way. I'm not sure that that's – to be perfectly honest, Mr. Wyatt's got a built-in – opinion, and I'm not so terribly sure that you're going to convince him. I think that maybe you might look at try to convince people that you have a better chance to convince.

Governor Thone

Dave: That's a good place to start, that's right.

[ Phone ringing ]

Dana Launderville: Good afternoon, GOARC. May I help you?

Narrator: As people like Ray leave the institutions, they're not entirely on their own at first. They do get support from organizations like GOARC, the Greater Omaha Association for Retarded Citizens, and ENCOR, the Eastern Nebraska Community Office on Retardation.

Shirley Dean: I think we've really changed the model in the way that services are provided to retarded people. There's a trend toward developmental approach, a positive approach, building on people's strengths instead of seeing people as being unable to accomplish things. A trend towards people living in the community and in society with the rest of the citizens. A trend toward people having more say in the kind of services that they receive. Both parents of handicapped people and handicapped people themselves I think have more of a voice today and that that will increase in the next few years. It's really the direction that we're going, is that people should have more of a voice in their life.

Narrator: When you first got out, though, was that kind of scary for you?

Ray: Yeah. For six months it was because you didn't know the people, you didn't know what you's gonna do, what you's going to run into. You didn't know what kind of reaction they'd give ya, and about the first six months –

[ Phone ringing in the background ]

Ray: – and after that, it was okay.

Narrator: So it just took your ability to kind of stick it out and realize that you could make it, huh?

Ray: That's right. And –

Narrator: Were you ever scared that you'd have to go back?

Ray: Yes, but I swore to myself I never go back. If you got somebody to watch over ya and feed ya and that, you always want their help, but if you can prove and show 'em that you're just as independent as them, and make ya feel happy about it, well, that's the best – to my knowledge, that's best way to be, is with self-independence.

Narrator: Uh-huh.

Ray: 'Cuz I hate like heck to have someone feeding me when I'm 50, 60 years old.

Jack: I thought I was not going to make it. Now I made it. I think the rest of them can do just as well as I could do.

Narrator: What was the hardest part, was it getting a job?

Jack: Yeah, that was the hardest – that was the roughest part, finding a job.

Narrator: How was your luck?

Jack: You know, some people – the only thing they kind of got to get used to is 'cops watching you in these places, a lot of 'em. Sometimes there's cops watching you all the time and seeing what you're doing. But after a few months out, about four, five months, you will be able to do it. Ain't that hard.

Narrator: How about the employers that you've had, have they treated you well? Did you have any discrimination? Did you ever –

Jack: Yeah.

Narrator: – feel like you got turned away? Yeah

Jack: I had quite a few of 'em but I just overlooked 'em. Go out and look for another job. I figure if they don't want my help, I'll go find another one.

Ollie: I making sandwiches, salads, making soup, puttin' soups up, and cutting stuff up, making salads and stuff for us, and I have – we have –

Narrator: Everything they give you, right?

Ollie: Every time I’m told wash pots and pans, cleaning up the kitchen and everything else.

Narrator: Do you like your work?

Ollie: I love it. In fact, put stuff on me, I learn more. Some days I hope I get me another job to go workin', you know, that doing the same thing. I can work it so fast and people can't say...

Narrator: Uh-huh. How do you get along with the other people at work?

Ollie: Everybody love me, you know. If I ain't right there, you know, there'll be, you know, calling, how I am and everything, you know. You know what – everybody tease me. I tease 'em right back and everything.

Shirley: We've seen a lot of good acceptance once people get to know each other. We've seen landlords who have just been tremendously supportive of retarded people who live in their residences, or employers who are tremendously supportive of retarded people who work for them, once they get to know them personally.

But I think the term "mental retardation" scares a lot of people initially and maybe has a lot of negative images with it. But the people, once – once people get to know each other, they find out that mentally retarded people are people first and that – that that's the most important thing about them, not what their handicap is.

Narrator: Here at Coco's Restaurant on Dodge Street, Ray earns his living as a dishwasher. I asked his employer if he would encourage others to hire people like Ray.

Alex Hernandez: I definitely would because I've had a good experience with him, and I think they work good. They are not only conscientious but they're punctual and they get satisfaction from the work they do. I think they feel – they feel proud to be productive and being able to get something done.

[ Background noise ]

Alex: Raymond talks to us quite often and he tells us about his activities, and I – I admire him a lot because of, you know, how he likes to help out others, and he's – I think he's a terrific guy.

Narrator: In addition to holding down a job, Ray carries the responsibilities that come with marriage and being a father.

Ray: Pretty good to be a father, and it feels good to really have family to – that you can really say, you bring home the – some money to support 'em and that. Which I know nobody makes too much.

[ Child laughing ]

Narrator: You never make as much as you like.

[ Laughing ]

Ray: That's right. And feels good to come home to a family.

Narrator: I bet that's something you never imagined you'd have, either.

Ray: No, no. I've dreamt of having my own family. I dreamt of having family that I could come home to and dreamt I'd have a nice life on the outside. But it’s not all peaches and cream, either.

Narrator: No? It's hard work.

Ray: It is. It's just much hard work as to stay out of a place like Beatrice as it is to try to get out of Beatrice.

Narrator: I tried to talk with Ray's wife, Nancy, who's also been active in Project II, but I didn't have much success. Their two-year-old son, Billy, had no compunctions about upstaging even his mother.

Narrator: How has Ray been has a father?

Nancy Loomis: Real good.

Narrator: Does he spend a lot of time with Billy?

Nancy: Oh, yes. But Billy doesn't want to spend a lot of time with him.

[ Laughter ]

Narrator: He's used to having you around, isn't he?

Nancy: Uh-huh. That's why I go to parent – child/parent center on Tuesdays and Thursdays with him. They pick us up and they bring us back.

Narrator: That's great. So you get to play with other children his age, then?

Nancy: Yes, there’s kids younger than he is yet there.

[ Laughter ]

Narrator: He's back.

Nancy: Can you say something, Billy?

Narrator: Not yet.

[ Laughter ]

Narrator: Give him time.

But aside from job and family, Ray has devoted the last three years of his life to making Project II a viable force in this community.

Ray: At first it was called Rap Session, but then I changed it to Project II. I thought that was more formal, yeah, more formal than Rap Session.

Narrator: Okay. What kind of group did you have in mind? What did you – what were you thinking about?

Ray: I was thinking of people that, like the handicapped and mentally retarded and the groups like out of state institutions, and help them and open the doors for somebody who needs help.

Narrator: When you first started, how many people were there?

Ray: I'd say that three, four, maybe five people at first, and, I don't know, we got about a hundred and fifty, 200 people on the mailing list.

Narrator: Did you think it would ever amount to anything way back then when you first started?

[ Chuckling ]

Ray: When I first started, I was scared. I didn't know how it was. Then after – after while, few months, then – progress came.

Bonnie Shoutlz: When Project II started, I think it was just – that was it. It was a local group, people were just interested in getting, maybe, ten people together to – to help each other, but what's happened kind of inadvertently is that it's become somewhat well-known internationally, you know, in a funny way.

We have a lot of visitors who come to Omaha to see ENCOR programs and see MCRI and GOARC. And very often they meet with Project II and sometimes I feel that one of the most strong impressions that they take away with them is the impression of mentally retarded adults working for themselves and learning about themselves, and learning about their rights. It's really neat.

I know that there are people in England and Australia and Tunisia and France who have heard about Project II. It's kind of neat, as well as a lot of people in our on country.

Narrator: So it's probably a newer concept than you think, certainly on an international level.

Bonnie: Yes. Yes. There's certainly something there was an organization started in Oregon about four years ago called People First, and Project II is linked with that, and that really was the beginning of this movement in the United States, but somehow Project II has taken on its own or it's gotten its own renown.

Jack: Ray Loomis has been one heck of a good leader and has done a lot for us. I think he can make – keep it going.

Narrator: Uh-huh

Jack: I have faith in Raymond because when Ray want something, like we said, we ain't backing away no more. We start pushing back. Ain't backing away from no more trouble. Ray's helped us one hell of a lot now, and I think he can make it some more.

Gerald Paes: I guess the thing that's special about Ray, from my point of view, is the fact that Ray does things, all right! He doesn't let his – his apparent lack of ability stand in his way of getting the things done that he wants to do. I think, from my point of view, I wish that I – I had as much capability – I exhibited as much of my capabilities as Ray does of his, you know. He just does it. He goes out and does it.

And that's super, you just don't find better people than that. He's wild

Bonnie: Ray has a lot of, I guess you would say, common sense that's – that's born of experience, things he's probably tried a lot of ways of handling life situations and he's found the best ones, and he's able to communicate that to other people. He will – we'll have a meeting on problem-solving and we'll have a speaker in on problem-solving and people will start talking about what their problems are and say they have problems at work with their supervisors, and Ray's answer is always something that helps everyone, I think.

Like, for example, in problems, he'll just say – he'll say, "Well, now, what I do is I just sit the person down and talk to them," you know. And it's an approach that a lot of us know we should take but we don't take. So I think that I've learned a lot from Ray, myself.

Ray: If you don't have friends, you don't know where you're coming from.

Narrator: Yeah.

Ray: And friends is made out of people, and people and friendships. And if you take people and you treat them like an animal, they're going to act like one.

Ollie: Look, I said, I know I got a little bit something wrong with me, you know, and look, people, I'm a part of you just the same as anybody else have, you know. If you give your time to me, I show you, you know. All you have to do is show me once. I break my neck to do it for you. I think it's one thing, just don't start to push me around. That's another thing...

[ Laughter ]

Ray: People care what they want to do. People care how they want to do it, and they care how they're going to go about it, and if people doesn't have the feeling towards it or they don't care, then it's not up to nobody else to care what you do.

[ Applause ]

Narrator: A lot of the work that you've done is being recognized tonight by this Jefferson Award. How did you feel when you first found out?

Ray: Just like I told my wife, when I first seen them – seen it advertised on TV, told her, I said, "If I hadn't won one of them, I wouldn't know what to do."

[ chuckling ]

Ray: And I didn't, at first. But it's just like any other award, you're proud to win it. Makes you feel good, and you know you've accomplished quite a bit.

Narrator: And then you keep on working, right?

Ray: And you keep on working that much more harder.

Betty Shapiro: These letters piled on the desk are the 180 nominations that KETV received this year for the Jefferson Award, and as you can well imagine, each one contains a heart-warming story of personal dedication and generosity, and certainly none of these people are losers in the traditional sense of the word. But our panel of judges voted unanimously that Ray Loomis would be our Jefferson Award winner and we hope by now you understand why. Ray was successful in his personal struggle to become a human being in the fullest sense of the word, and to become an accepted member of this community. But he wasn't happy with his own personal success. He was determined that others like him would share that same sense of accomplishment and human dignity.

This book, which is published by the American Institutes for Public Service, the co-sponsor of the Jefferson Awards, has a quote in it that I would like to share with you. It's written by a newspaper publisher in Tennessee, and he says, "Rights and liberties are never secure, are never won. They are always in the process of being won and always in the process of being made secure."

Ray Loomis understands the meaning of those words and because of that, he'll keep on fighting, and he'll keep reminding all of us that we are people first.

Gerald Paes: If we could all overcome our fears, like Ray has overcome his fears and his problems, what a tremendous place this world would be. It would be absolutely fantastic. Just no doubt in my mind.

[ Music ]