By ALEXA BRILL
Senator Bob Mensch knows more than many , about the issues faced by people with disabilities and their families. His son, Billy, has disabilities. Out of his family’s experience, Sen. Mensch has become a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities.
Sen. Mensch is a cosponsor of SB 200, legislation to help young people with disabilities get summer and part-time jobs as they prepare for work after high school. Demonstrating his desire for people with disabilities and those requiring governmental assistance to be treated with dignity, Sen. Mensch was a key supporter of changing the name of the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services.
Billy Mensch attends an adult day program or “workshop” daily, where he feels productive in that environment. “These people have the same desires to produce and succeed as everyone else, Sen. Mench says..”
Sen. Mensch feels “there is a lack of standard commitment” when it comes to Pennsylvania’s commitment to young people with disabilities.
Although Billy is now 37, he still recalls the difficulties in finding the appropriate services and support systems for him. When Billy was in public school, he started in the local system, which Sen. Mensch says “provided more lip service than actual intervention”. Then Billy transferred to another district where “the services were improved dramatically” says Sen. Mensch. Even though schools have the obligation to provide services and follow the same guidelines, “they each delivered distinctly different products”.
Out of these experiences, Sen.Mensch became, as a parent, an expert on the system providing supports to young people with disabilities. He has taken his concern and passion for helping young persons with disabilities to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate, where he champions on there behalf.
Sen. Mensch recalls one time when a teacher started making false reports of child abuse against all the parents of the children in Billy’s class. According to Sen. Mensch, “the teacher union and the administration circled the wagons and refused to intervene, and protected the teacher who we suspected was making the false claims”. So Sen. Mensch took the lead, and after approximately one year, they had the entire Montgomery County IU as well as the special education teachers receive remedial training in what constituted as child abuse. As a result of this experience, Sen. Mensch says parents began reaching out to him for advice on similar issues.
Sen. Mensch is also involved with Vets for Vets, a program that is helping emotionally and physically disadvantaged veterans. “It’s an extraordinary effort in our community started by one vet, who self-funded their start. We try to bring volunteers, pro bono professionals, and we make monetary contributions to his program”, says Sen. Mensch.
Sen. Mensch says that personal contacts can be an invaluable tool in finding employment. He believes that one thing that can help people with disabilities prepare for employment is to have them fully included in the regular education classrooms early in their lives, so that once they reach adulthood, they are socially integrated. When his son Billy graduated high school, Sen. Mensch says Billy received a standing ovation from the students. Billy’s peers appreciated him, and the fact that he attended their band rehearsals and sports practices.
Sen. Mensch believes that people with disabilities “are loyal, want to help, and can positively contribute to businesses. They are looking for opportunities to prove themselves. For too long we’ve overlooked the potential of this sector of our population”.