Carol Robison has been a volunteer for Mosaic since 1986. Back then, the Northern Indiana agency operated under the name, Bethphage. Once Bethphage merged with Martin Luther Homes, Mosaic was formed.
In 1983, Carol’s husband Don retired from the Navy. At that time, the Robison’s moved from Virginia Beach, where Don was stationed on a ship off the coast of Norfolk, back to Mishawaka- where they were originally from.
Soon after returning to Mishawaka, Carol began teaching Sunday school at her home church, Evangel Heights United Methodist. Originally a speech therapist, Carol looked for work in the public school system but there were no jobs available. She also taught the preschool class at EHUMC as a substitute.
Don’s position with the Navy took them all over the US. The Robison’s moved from Indiana to Ohio, Kalamazoo, Omaha, New Orleans, West Point, Great Lakes, Norfolk and back to Indiana.
After teaching the preschoolers and Sunday school, Carol was offered a position teaching Kindergarten at Evangel Heights. Carol offered a suggestion.
“I told them I would really like to teach adults with intellectual disabilities. I established a ministry called Sunshine Disability Ministries. I wrote letters to group homes in the community including the Cherry Tree Lane home. Kevin and Karl, twins who lived in the home, came to the church. I was their non-paid circle member,” she said.
A circle member is someone in a group of friends who is not paid to be there. Carol explained that while a direct care staff can be caring, supportive and closely bonded with a person receiving services, they are still paid to be in their life. She feels this gives a subtle impression that differs from someone volunteering their time.
When Kevin and Karl’s guardian moved out of state, she was asked to become their guardian.
“Of course I jumped at the chance! In Omaha we had foster children with intellectual disabilities. I have also experienced what it is like to be disabled,” Carol said.
When Carol and her family were living in New Orleans, she was involved in a horse riding accident that has left her with permanent damage. Carol had to learn how to walk and talk again. She has a constant ringing in her ear and difficulty with word retrieval at times. Recently Carol had hip surgery and had to use two canes to get around.
“Looking back, we see how God has used everything for good. I was able to speak up and say from experience the difficulties I saw. I knew for certain how hard it was to go up ramps, stairs, chair lifts and bathroom accessibilities,” she said.
Carol also went into a temporary although deep depression caused by her anesthesia after surgery. She said she does not know how some people can deal with that long term. Since then, she has asked people to pray over pharmacies for people getting surgery.
“We are finite beings with an infinite God and we each have a purpose. If we haven’t had a disability yet, we probably will before we die. If we understand and realize this it is easier for our friends to be integrated in our society, in my opinion,” Carol said.
In the 1990’s, Carol worked once a week at Logan Center. There was a man there that had Cerebral Palsy. Carol would try to give teachers a way to communicate with their students in addition to delivering speech therapy. Technology was of course different then and this gentleman struggled to communicate as he could not control his arms or head. Carol designed a frame with yes and no in different corners so he could simply look at the preferred response. He also followed along with Carol as she read to him.
“One day I told him that God hears the prayers of our hearts. We do not have to be able to speak. My feeling was that no one had ever assured him that God was listening to him and knew who he was. I think because someone else chose whether he would have chocolate or vanilla pudding or wear a green or red shirt, they would also have to talk to God for him too. That was the last time I saw him but I told myself it was a blessing for both him and myself that I told him that,” she said.
Kevin and Karl moved to the Woodmont home after it opened. Most of all Carol wanted the men to be together since they were brothers. She also requested their direct care manager to go with them since they were so close. Carol described him as a beautiful, gentle soul.
“We have so many of these in our group here and it’s so important to have that spirit. When Karl was dying every staff member came to the hospital. They brought Kevin too. After he passed, I donated his organs. I thought Karl was so special. I received a letter from a kidney recipient’s wife thanking me,” she said.
Carol was on a human rights committee for a company that eventually closed down. She was asked to be a guardian for Tom who lived in a home operated by that agency. The people served by this agency were moved in the middle of the night to a new agency without Carol’s consent or knowledge. For a while she could not locate Tom at all.
Tom’s new home was dark and he was often in his room. Every time she saw him at day program he was always in the same spot. Carol contacted Mosaic and asked if there was room for Tom also. After Karl passed, Mosaic’s former executive director, Bill Cochrane offered his space for Tom. Carol said they both worked very carefully to be sensitive with the transition.
“Once I became a guardian I had them baptized. When the pastor laid his hand on Kevin’s head and asked if he could pray with him, his eyes lit up. Later Kevin saw the pastor and ran to him, he placed his hand on his head just like pastor. Spiritually we have no idea what they experience. I don’t know how God works in my heart.
Our group, Sunshine Ministries, is teaching our congregation about who God is and how he works. They may not get the stories or songs always and that’s ok because in my opinion what matters most is that they know I love them, God loves them and they can talk to God in their own way. That they are loved and safe and God desires their love in return,” Carol said.
Sunshine Ministries of Evangel Heights Church are designed to welcome persons with disabilities into the whole life of the church- to be ministered to and, more importantly, to be in ministry with others. Carol Robison is Director of this ministry which includes seven fellowship groups and Sunday school classes.
For more information please contact Carol Robison at 234-8379 ext. 103