Windstorm, Power Outage Don't Slow Jill

Jill Schneidewind kept up with her life


including a tutoring appointment, during the big Maine power outage.

During this week’s huge power outage in Maine, Jill Schneidewind did what daughters everywhere do. She called to check in with her mother. Then, she walked to the nearest open store for a new flashlight and batteries so she’d have some illumination in her own apartment.

The story would be entirely unremarkable, except that Jill, 47, is a client of Independence Association, a half-century-old local nonprofit organization supporting youth and adults with developmental disabilities.

Brunswick, Maine is "the best town in the USA for people with disabilities to live in," mother Carol Schneidewind says. She bases that assessment on her daughter's success over more than 30 years in the community.

Principal's prediction: "She'll never read"

Carol and her late husband, Gil, decided on Maine after a school principal in another state told them point-blank that their daughter, then in first grade, would never learn to read. “You can buy Jill all the books you want, but she will never learn to read,” Carol remembers.

"I knew he was wrong," Carol says. The family had previously lived in Brunswick while Gil, a naval aviator, was stationed at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, so they decided to target a return to the town. "We loved Brunswick, and we knew Jill and our other children could get a good education there," Carol says.

Brunswick lived up to the family's expectations. Jill entered Coffin School as a second grader. With support from good teachers and later from excellent Literacy Volunteers, Jill succeeded in learning to read. She has subscribed for years to the Times Record and frequently calls to alert her mother to articles of interest.

Reading and resourcefulness

Jill also loves to read books. Currently, Jill says, she's reading her fourth in the "Boxcar Children" series. She met Tuesday with her Literacy Volunteers tutor, even though the library where they usually meet was closed because the power was still out. At Jill's suggestion, the two sat at a table outside the building for a 30-minute session.

"We're in the perfect place for Jill, living in Brunswick where people are accepted no matter what," Carol says. "I'm very proud of Jill and so pleased at how much she's matured and learned."

Jill lives in a downtown Brunswick apartment managed by Independence Association. She walks to the library twice a day to send and check emails -- a skill she picked up by taking a class she discovered herself at the library, her mother notes.

"Jill is very resourceful, partly because she's allowed to be," Carol says. "Our family is indebted to Independence Association for much of Jill’s success. We couldn't be happier than to be in Brunswick and have Jill involved in Independence Association."

25 years of volunteer service

Jill's routines include volunteering weekly at Coastal Landing, where she was honored for 25 years of service in March 2016. "That was a surprise to me!" she says. "I thought we were going to play bingo!"

Jill began volunteering with older adults when Skolfield House -- the predecessor to Coastal Landing -- was located within walking distance of her downtown home. She joined residents for outings, games, movies, and even the occasional meal.

When Skolfield House moved to Brunswick Landing, ceasing to volunteer was not an option for Jill. "Those are my people, and I have to go where they go," she told her mother. So Jill worked out a weekly transportation plan with Independence Association community support staff to drive her to and from Coastal Landing twice a week.

Advocacy: No more "retarded" citizens

Jill's community involvement also has included advocacy that resulted in two local nonprofits removing the word "retarded" from their names. [Independence Association was one of the two. We're grateful to Jill and others for encouraging us to use more contemporary and appropriate language.]

"Jill turned out to be a little ray of sunshine to everyone in Brunswick," her mother says. "So many people know Jill and are glad to see her smile as she greets them on the streets of our town. We are extremely fortunate to have Independence Association to help so many people reach for and achieve high goals of independence and lead useful, happy lives."

Andrew Edwards