Kelly Carson seems to put everybody she meets in a good mood. Her smile is contagious, her hugs full of warmth and love.
Carson is 22 years old and severely handicapped, which causes mental retardation and makes her unable to speak. Despite her disabilities, Carson has spent the last four months volunteering her time cleaning offices for Trinity Respite Care, Farm Inc. and Advanced Home Care.
Carson volunteers at each of these organizations once a week, spending a few hours doing light cleaning, including dusting and vacuuming. A job coach from Cottonwood accompanies her to make sure Carson does the work.
After Carson graduated from Lawrence High School last summer, her foster parents, Ken and Patty Meyer, wanted her to get assimilated in the Lawrence community and meet new and different people. Carson has done just that and is having fun along the way.
"She does it mainly for the social interaction and the community interaction, to be out and about," Ken Meyer said. "She enjoys being out and being in the community in interaction with other people. That's really her goal and her award for doing it -- to not be confined and to enjoy that time that she has. It's been very positive for her."
Carson has been living with the Meyers for the past 16 years, having first met at Cordley School in 1980. Carson was a student in the special education class taught by Patty Meyer. The Meyers fell in love with Carson's smile and accepted her into their family. The couple has another foster daughter and a daughter of their own. Ken Meyer said his family will do everything they can to help Carson lead as regular a life as possible.
In addition to her volunteer work, Carson goes to Cottonwood five days a week, where she interacts with people and participates in various projects. She has attended Cottonwood for seven months now. Carson communicates with people by smiling, hugging, and giving various facial expressions. Ken Meyer said it takes strangers a little while to become comfortable and used to interacting with her. Once they are more comfortable, people tend to be enamored by Kelly's affection.
As for Carson, Ken Meyer said he had seen significant improvement in her over the past four to seven months, as she's become more independent, expressive, responsible and conscious of others' feelings.
"Since she's gotten out of the school system and is in, quote, a more work-related environment, she's become more expressive of her emotions and feelings -- both good and bad," Meyer said. "I think that's changed her and made her better ... She has been forced by the interaction with others to learn to respect, trust and accept other individuals.
Aside from Cottonwood and her volunteer duties, Carson stays busy playing with her toys at home and swimming in the pool. Carson also enjoys shopping at local stores on the weekends, riding in the car and traveling, Meyer said. Her spirit remains bountiful in all that she does, and she brings joy to everyone she meets.
Teresa Martell, executive director of Trinity Respite Care, a United Way member agency, is one such person. She said that seeing Carson was a highlight of the week.
"She brightens our day," Martell said. "Not only does she clean the room, she puts a smile on everyone's face. It's a real plus to our week when she comes in."