Change isn’t always easy, especially for people with autism who often thrive on routine. But when the world changed in 2020, Little City’s Countryside Center took the opportunity to change with it, and people like Matt helped lead the way. 

For years, Countryside Center’s primary program was performing subcontract work for outside vendors, but as the state has worked to eliminate that kind of sub-minimum wage work, Countryside worked toward transforming its programming. With COVID-19 forcing a lengthy shut down, Countryside took the opportunity to completely change, and a whole new experience awaited participants when they returned in September. 

Gone were the work areas marked A, B, C and D that would have up to 50 people busily working at their stations. In its place are classroom pods of 8 to 10 people working on daily curriculums to improve life skills, social skills and enjoy recreational and fitness courses. It was a massive change for people like Matt who had only ever experienced the daily routine of the subcontract work for his five years at Countryside, but he has embraced the change and his positive approach to the new routine has helped set the tone for others. 

“To go from what they had to this new programming is a really big change, even for our staff, who went from supervising production to becoming teachers” said Lisa Cluster, vocational services director. “But Matt has really enjoyed the change and picked up immediately on the new routine. He’s adjusted to every new protocol and is just really easy going and even-keeled about everything.”

 The change has brought out the best in many people as the smaller groups of 8 to 10 people as opposed to the groups of 50 has inspired many people to come out of their shells and be more social. Lisa said there has been a noticeable improvement in behaviors for quite a few participants and staff are learning more about each person’s passions and interests. For Matt, his love of musicals and drawing has always been well known, but this new programming could eventually allow him to monetize those passions.

 Lisa said the goal is to create different tracks for people to choose, including a vocational track that would lead to Little City’s Employee Development Services program and a creative track that would allow people to pursue passions such as drawing, horticulture and other creative work with the goal of selling their work in a microbusiness format.

 With so much continuing to change and evolve at Countryside in the wake of COVID, Lisa said it is a blessing to have people like Matt who can lead by example and approach changes with a positive attitude. Countryside has built back up from 13 people who initially came back in September to nearly 50 people today. Another classroom of 8 to 10 people will be coming back in April.

 “Matt is just a really great guy and he has been great to have around with all these changes,” Lisa said. “Even the staff were a little hesitant at first, but you can see how much they enjoy it because they get to spend more time with people like Matt and learn about each person. They all have interests you may have never known about. Change isn’t always bad and I think we are seeing that we are changing to provide an even better service now.” 

Your impact on Matt is helping him adjust to changes and find new paths to success. Thank you!