By HANNAH KLARNER
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Madelyn Monzo doesn’t spend her paychecks — she’s saving them to take her father to Walt Disney World.
The 24-year-old Annapolis native works in a discount store — her third job since taking programs at the Providence Center, an organization that helps “individuals with disabilities to enjoy increased self-determination” in society, according to their annual report.
Monzo has Down syndrome, and transitioned from high school to the Providence Center, which offers classes like personal hygiene, her favorite.
She said her first job was at Chesapeake Treasures, a clothing store in Severna Park, Maryland.
“I worked there for two years,” Monzo said, “They would have me go to the back room and sort clothes.”
Monzo also worked at a McDonald’s, cleaning the restaurant.
But it is when she is asked about her current job that her face lights up.
Monzo works at the store in a strip mall in Crownsville, Maryland; corporate officials did not approve naming the organization in print.
Monzo said she was so excited when she learned she got the job she was jumping up and down saying “I have a job!”
When asked, Monzo can produce her purple safety box cutter from her purse in an instant.
Her mentor, Amanda Tosoni, found the specialized tool with a covered blade online and ordered it in Monzo’s favorite color, purple.
Monzo arrives at work, punches in, then starts opening boxes. She can open 12 boxes in a two-hour shift, according to Tosoni.
She organizes all the merchandise when it arrives and then “they let me go into the store to put merchandise on the shelves,” she said.
Handling merchandise from arrival to stocking goods on the shelves means that Monzo knows the merchandise inside and out, she said.
Tosoni has been a mentor at the Providence Center for over four years, but has been working with Monzo for about half a year.
Part of mentoring is helping the clients at the Providence Center determine what kinds of jobs they would like, what they would be good at, and preparing them for the job hunt.
Joining the workforce and having a job is important because “they’re getting some respect, they’re going to get paid, all that good stuff happens,” according to Tosoni.
When Monzo told her father she had the job, she said he told her he was proud of her.
But work is only a small part of Monzo’s life.
She volunteers, acts, sings, makes jewelry, and she is an advocate.
When Rosemary Elger, Providence Center’s director of workforce and community development, asked Monzo whether she wanted to go to Annapolis for a political rally, Monzo said yes.
“I felt like I wanted to help,” Monzo said.
Elger, Monzo and another member of the Providence Center community went to Lawyer’s Mall, right outside the State House in Annapolis.
They were at the February rally in support of legislation proposed during the General Assembly called the Keep the Door Open Act.
The legislation required an annual increase in the governor’s budget specifically for behavioral health programs and ensured continued funding for community health care providers, like the Providence Center.
The Senate’s bill, SB0476, passed in that chamber on March 17. Subsequently, the provisions in the bill were folded into omnibus legislation to address the state’s opioid crisis, called the HOPE Act. That bill, which mandates funding for behavioral health, including for mental health and for substance use disorders for those addicted to heroin and opioids, passed on the last day of the session.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year includes a 2 percent increase for behavioral health.
The behavioral health provisions of the Hope Act, which kick in for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, mandate a 3.5 percent increase in spending for behavioral health, and require that the state study providers’ reimbursement rates to keep them at a competitive level going forward.
The Providence Center’s annual budget, which was $9.8 million in fiscal year 2016, shows that more than 90 percent of their operation costs were covered by grants and contracts.
The center, which has several locations around Anne Arundel County, including a greenhouse, offers vocational training, transportation, day programs including counseling and fitness, as well as recreational trips for adults with disabilities.
Elger had been speaking to Monzo about being a “self-advocate,” which is part of why Monzo wanted to go to the rally.
“I want to speak up for myself,” she said.
Monzo is,“very friendly and she’s very outgoing,” said Tosoni. “I’ve never heard her talk per se about politics, but it doesn’t surprise me that she was advocating for herself. And I’m proud of her.”
Monzo said she enjoyed the rally, and said she would attend another.
She also wants to keep working.
Tosoni said her long-term goal for Monzo is increasing the amount of hours she works in a week.
Currently, Monzo works one, two-hour shift per week at the discount store. Tosoni mentors some people working as many as 30 hours in a week.
“I like to keep on working,” Monzo said, and “talking to new people.”
Monzo does much more than work — she is also active in The Sky is the Limit theater, in Dundalk, Maryland.
She acted in the theater’s rendition of “Willy Wonka,” in which she played two roles, including an Oompa Loompa.
Monzo also appeared in the production of “Honk”, which she said “is kind of like ‘Dumbo,’ but with a duck.”
She also volunteers at The Clothes Box, a consignment store located in the Anne Arundel Medical Center.
When she isn’t out and about in the community, Monzo crafts, making all kinds of jewelry.
Through her years at the Providence Center, Monzo has learned many things, but she said her favorite lesson is to “learn from your mistakes.”