Ladeska “Decky” Makings was diagnosed with polio when she was only 4 years old. She and a friend who had been in treatment together were allowed to go home the same day.
“I was able to run to my daddy,” Makings recalled. “But my friend was beginning his new life in a wheelchair. I remember thinking this was not fair; his life would dramatically change. He faced bullying and perceived restrictions, and had to cope with society’s stereotypes.”
These memories played a big role in Makings’ future. “I was not just looking for a job,” she said. “I wanted a career to feel passionate about, to make a difference in people’s lives. I found Sunflower Diversified Services.”
After serving in several capacities since March 1993, Makings retired Friday. Her career began as staff training coordinator; subsequent titles were adult services director, chief operating officer, interim executive director and then back to COO.
“I cannot imagine a better job,” Makings said. “I came in on a grant-supported program designed to completely change the way the public and service providers viewed people with intellectual delays and disabilities.”
This was also the beginning of teaching Sunflower clients how to advocate for themselves.
However, as Makings taught clients about their individual rights, she identified topics neglected in the curriculum. These included: how to make friends; how to get experience to make informed decisions about where to live and work; behavioral issues; and sexuality.
“So, I wrote the curriculum for these topics,” Makings said. “We have moved away from viewing a person with disabilities as someone to be afraid of, or coddled and protected. They are just people like anyone else.
“They should be encouraged to live their lives the way they want, make mistakes and take risks when they understand the consequences.”
The training and advocacy developed statewide continues to have a “profound effect” on people with disabilities and their families.
“I guess this is what I am most proud of,” Makings commented. “The philosophies developed are being taught and put into action.
“The most challenging aspect was to teach clients and others that people with disabilities have the right to make informed decisions. We were able to do this because a cohesive team of Kansas non-profits worked together. It was a great thing.”
To illustrate the drastic changes since Makings has been on the job, she cited an example. Twenty-five years ago a Sunflower client was suspected of having a series of small strokes.
“The doctor said, ‘yep, that’s what’s happening. But he is already retarded so it’s not worth spending money on tests.’ In large part because of Sunflower’s work with area medical providers and current changes in the medical profession’s attitude toward disability, that wouldn’t happen today.”
If Makings could talk with lawmakers who hold the purse strings, she would ask them to realize “our humanity is determined by how we treat those less fortunate. Not with pity, not with charity. But allowing a fair shake and the opportunity to grow.
“Every single time there is a budget shortfall, we look at people who need support to pay the price. But as the economy goes, so goes our willingness to support people less fortunate.”
Some people rationalize that the less fortunate don’t deserve help, which results in cuts in Medicaid and other programs.
“I wish lawmakers realized these alleged cost-saving efforts actually cost more money,” Makings noted. “Services are always cheaper in local communities than in more institutionalized settings.”
Whenever there is talk about cutting budgets, everyone should be concerned, Makings added. “If you live long enough, you are going to have a disability. We are all fragile. Accidents and sudden illnesses often result in a disability. All people deserve support when they need it.”
Even though Makings will be at Sunflower on a regular basis to continue staff training, “I will miss the people we serve. The connections here are like family. And I have worked with this great staff for such a long time. I am quite comfortable leaving the reins to this next generation of strong leaders.
“We have celebrated the small successes that multiply into big changes in people’s lives. It has been an honor to be part of Sunflower’s unwavering commitment to improving people’s quality of life.”
Amanda Urban, director of adult supports, noted that Makings’ innovative contributions to staff training have enriched countless lives.
“For example,” Urban said, “we go to conferences eager to learn new information. But virtually everything on the agenda is something Sunflower is already doing. This is largely because of Decky’s innovations. She has guided us to become true advocates for our clients’ journeys to more independence. It is a way of life here.”
Sunflower Executive Director Jon Prescott said “Decky has worked tirelessly to make Sunflower one of the best service providers anywhere. She deserves high praise for showing clients and families how people can lead more independent lives.
“She has been sought out by organizations to speak on her well-known sexuality class that set a milestone for clients who learned why their bodies were changing. This is an awesome legacy. I cannot tell you how much she will be missed by staff and clients.”
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 52nd year.