Kathy Lobb of Lawrence has been named winner of the national Bill Sackter Award, given annually to a person who overcomes developmental disabilities and helps others do the same.
Maybe you've seen Kathy Lobb's smiling face as she greets patrons at SuperTarget, 3201 Iowa. Perhaps you recognize her through her involvement with the developmentally disabled.
You might have even ordered a Big Mac from her.
Regardless of how you know Lobb, or if you've never met her, you should know this: She is this year's national Bill Sackter Award winner.
Lobb, 37, Lawrence, was given the award by The Arc, a national advocacy organization representing more than 7 million children and adults with mental disabilities. To qualify, a recipient must have lived in a restricted setting before successfully returning to independent community living.
"I've learned that you've got to take risks," Lobb said, sitting back in a soft, reclining chair in the living room of her spacious, one-bedroom apartment. "You've got to live life to the fullest."
Emulating Bill Sackter
The award is named for a man with developmental disabilities who tuned out skeptics and eventually opened and successfully operated his own coffee shop. The movie "Bill," starring Mickey Rooney, details Sackter's life.
"I'm frightened for people with developmental disabilities, to be able to function normally," Lobb said. "Bill Sackter was a person who taught other people with disabilities to do that for themselves."
Her extensive volunteer work, her strong will and letters of recommendations from, among others, state Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, helped pave the way for Lobb to win the award.
Lobb lives alone and makes use of few supports from Cottonwood Inc., the local community developmental disability organization. This summer, she plans to move from her one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom unit, creating room for computer equipment.
As for her current apartment near Holcom Park, Lobb said she likes the open space it boasts, compared to her previous apartment. Many of her friends, she said, still live in low-income housing or group homes, an environment she left in 1980.
Kathy Lobb's parents run a dairy farm in Jefferson County, between McLouth and Oskaloosa. As the oldest of four sisters, Lobb attended Lawrence public schools until 1968.
"The services weren't in-depth, though," Lobb said, adding that local programs have improved since that time.
"There was no place here to get the kind of education her family wanted her to have," said Sharon Lobb Johnson, Kathy's sister and executive director of The Arc of Douglas County.
Teachers at Cordley recommended the Martin Luther Home and School in Beatrice, Neb., where she was taught to read and write, and learned essential life skills such as home economics.
"The staff that worked with me there was really nice and really understanding," Lobb said. "They made me feel comfortable."
In 1976, when she was 18, she returned to Lawrence and began working at a sheltered workshop established through Cottonwood. For her first project, she assembled plastic and foam hair curlers. For the next 12 years, Lobb would work in different local "work enclaves," including those at Packer Plastics and Quaker Oats.
In 1989, she was hired at McDonald's, 1309 W. Sixth. Beginning in 1993, Lobb worked on a two-year grant proposal for the local nonprofit agency Full Citizenship Inc., which provides services for developmentally disabled. She began working at SuperTarget in 1995, where she is a guest ambassador.
"Do I like it?" Lobb said, referring to her new job. "Yes I do."
To get to work, Lobb rides the bus, takes a taxi or catches rides with friends or family members. She walks when it's nice outside, "like it is today," Lobb said, pointing out a sliding-glass door to the bright afternoon sun.
Lobb served was a board member with The Arc of Douglas County from 1991 to 1994. She is now on The Arc's national board of directors and attends the organization's quarterly meetings in Arlington, Tex.
She helped form Self-Advocates of Lawrence and became the group's first president in 1990. She is now secretary of the state self-advocates group.
"I think people with disabilities ought to be able to do things ... to not always have to have someone there to rely on," Lobb said.
Lobb also was recruited to serve on a state Social and Rehabilitation Services task force to study institutional closure. In that capacity, she traveled to New Hampshire on a fact-finding mission and met with state senators there.
She has addressed state senators and the Lawrence City Commission on issues facing the developmentally disabled. Lobb recently lent her knowledge and voice to a radio interview for National Public Radio.
These activities, to name but a few, shed light on Lobb's continued dedication to advocacy for the developmentally disabled.
"All of my peers thought of me as a person that was outgoing," Lobb said. "And I have a lot of enthusiasm."
Initially, Johnson said, the family had many reservations and fears about Kathy living away from home.
"We, as a society, have started to revolve around our expectations of people with disabilities," Johnson said, adding that they learn by trial and error, just like everyone else.
Those expectations can be realistically shaped. Some, including family members of developmentally disabled, are feeling increasingly more comfortable with pushing harder, Johnson said. However, the possibility of exploitation is always a concern.
"The biggest barrier has probably been of family -- and others' -- stereotypes," Johnson said.
"We've learned to overcome those barriers, too," Lobb said, smiling.
It's been a good life, Lobb said, and she wants to continue helping others find the same joy that comes from independent success.
"The community has been good to me," Lobb said. "They give me a lot of opportunity to be able to speak up ... to just have a good life, a quality life."