For over 70 years, Lutheran Social Services has reached out to those on the margins of society: men, women and children with no home in which to live, no food to eat, no clean clothes to wear, no work to earn a living, and no reason to think today will be any different from yesterday, with the same forecast in store for tomorrow, and the day after that.
But there is another population we have served for almost 40 years. Avanti is our LSS program in Pasadena for adults with developmental disabilities. We come alongside people with overwhelming challenges, and help them discover their options for a genuine quality of life.
We help make them feel at home because of how special they are to us. Thomas Houston was one of our special residents.
Thomas, an African American man, was diagnosed with mild retardation at an early age. He came to LSS at age 30 looking to enhance his quality of life. He had limited job and community interaction skills, and stayed very much to himself. That is where Avanti really went to work.
Over the years, Thomas became a productive member of the community and an example to his peers. He worked with the staff to enhance his communication and work skills, and also to develop friendships and relationships within our community. He went from a quiet shy young man to a vibrant active member of the Avanti family.
He passed out food to the homeless, delivered Meals on Wheels Monday-Friday to those who could not get out to shop, and who were unable to survive by themselves. He was a member of Avanti’s acting group, portraying a tornado man in our presentation of the Wizard of Avanti, and a ghoul in our Halloween Avanti Thriller video.
What made Thomas so special was that he became a role model for his peers, and even for staff. His charm, wit and attitude was so strong, he was promoted to become a staff volunteer, where he could help guide other challenged participants to maximize the contributions they could make. He was moving up to the next level.
But, shortly after his promotion, Thomas died unexpectedly. His death was a shock to both our staff and clients.
He first came to Avanti on January 25, 1993. He died on February 2, 2017. He was an active participant at Avanti for just over 24 years. He was a true example of how the Avanti program can develop a shy young man with challenges, into a strong, and respected member of our community: a person who worked, played, volunteered, loved and turned into a social butterfly.
He made friends wherever he went. He was the ultimate symbol of how persons with emotional and intellectual challenges can rise to the level of being a success in their work, and an awesome steward of the gifts God bestowed upon them.
Surprisingly God called Thomas to his Heavenly Home. But his friends and staff left behind remain committed to embrace, equip and empower adults with all kinds of limitations, so they can fulfill the possibilities God created them to discover.