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Aug. 5, 2010
MARYVILLE, Mo. - In its 16 years of existence, Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living, or MERIL, has grown considerably from a staff of a few people and donated office space to a thriving community service that covers nine counties in northwest Missouri and enhances the quality of life for people with disabilities.
Northwest Missouri State University has been a partner of MERIL from the start, and the University was honored recently for its assistance with the first Terry Robertson Community Partner Award. Dr. Terry Long, associate professor of health, physical education, recreation and dance (HPERD), accepted the award on Northwest's behalf. The award is named for longtime MERIL board member, Dr. Terry Robertson, who also chairs the HPERD department.
Robertson joined the MERIL board in 1994 and was a board member until 2008, including six years as chairperson. Long served as chair for three years before stepping down last spring.
Founded in 1994, MERIL is a community-based, non-residential program, designed to promote independent living and enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities by empowering them to control and direct their lives and thus participate actively and independently in society. It serves the nine-county area of Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Clinton, Holt, Nodaway, DeKalb, Gentry and Worth counties.
"Their mission is to allow people to stay independently in the community as opposed to living in an institutional setting," Long said. "A lot of times folks associate independent living centers with assisted living or homecare facilities, but really it's more about being a part of the community and being able to live your life fully without having to deal with the barriers that might be associated with disabilities or people's attitudes toward disability."
In its early days, MERIL operated in an office donated by Heartland Health Systems. A state grant helped cover the costs for an executive director and other organizational needs.
Since then, MERIL has experienced tremendous growth. It opened a satellite office in Maryville, at 2613 South Main St., and 45 staff members provide outreach to clients in MERIL's nine-county area.
"They're a grassroots organization that's here to provide independent living services for folks who have disabilities," said Robertson, who previously was involved with independent living centers in Nevada and Utah. "The area that we work in, therapeutic recreation is always about trying to build independence in all areas - social, emotional, physical, intellectual. So it's always been a natural outlook for my involvement, providing services myself or having students get involved to volunteer."
Robertson and Long fostered MERIL's dynamic partnerships with Northwest and created opportunities for growth. In recent years, those partnerships have expanded beyond HPERD to include the computer science and mass communication departments. Students have helped by building program interfaces, developing manuals, benchmarking and coordinating events. One group of students developed an accessibility manual for the city of St. Joseph that involved the students going door-to-door as they evaluated the accessibility to around 500 businesses.
"We've really made a lot of gains in establishing a community awareness about what MERIL is," Long said.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
firstname.lastname@example.org | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900
Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468