Kenosha News correspondent
Jacob Best is an engaging young man. He’s generous with his hugs and smiles, eager to bring you into his life, although he tends to be shy around folks he doesn’t yet know.
But the Pleasant Prairie 23-year-old’s face was shown to many strangers when it appeared in “Possibilities,” a booklet highlighting and celebrating the lives of people with significant disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, who, like Best, are living, learning and working in Wisconsin.
The booklet was part of a campaign by People First Wisconsin, funded in part by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to demonstrate that people with disabilities can take part successfully in community activities, education and employment.
People First Wisconsin is a statewide self-advocacy organization for people with disabilities. Its mission is to educate on the rights of the disabled. The organization assists those with disabilities to realize their goals, educates the public on the rights and strengths of the disabled, helps local self-advocacy groups begin and grow stronger, and works toward closing institutions and making life in the community a human right for people with disabilities.
On Feb. 28 at a reception at Milwaukee’s Marian Center for non-profit organizations, Executive Director Mary Clare Carlson honored Best for his work at Tinseltown movie theater in Kenosha.
Not only does Best, who has Down syndrome and a severe hearing impairment, work three days a week at the theater, but he is an accomplished artist, previously recognized by the Wisconsin Regional Scholastic Art Awards. Additionally, he actively participates in Special Olympics and uses public transportation on his own.
“I am busy,” he said. “I go swimming every week at the ‘Y’ and have been swimming faster. I also do basketball, track and go bowling.”
According to his mother, Karen, Jacob is a happy young man who enjoys working, participating in Special Olympics and going to classes once a week.
“He attends Careers in Racine,” she said. “A lot of the developmentally disabled go there and work on various skills, including social skills. He has made a lot of friends, especially through Special Olympics. It is hard to go anywhere and not have people come up to us who know Jacob. I am amazed at what he has been able to accomplish.”
According to Carlson, after Jacob graduated from Wilmot High School, his former teacher Marcia Nolan contracted with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to help him find a job. Knowing Jacob was a movie buff, she thought he would be a perfect fit for employment at Tinseltown. She helped him apply, and he got the job.
“Marcia job-coached him for a while, but he doesn’t need her help any longer,” Carlson said. “He is able to rely on public transportation and feels a great sense of self worth because he is a productive member of society. In fact, he has inspired many of his friends from Special Olympics because they are now interested in getting jobs, too.”
Carlson plans to accompany Jacob to speak at area high schools about his experiences.
“I think he would be very encouraging to other kids in all that he accomplished,” she said. “And then we would give each of the students a copy of the booklet to bring home to their parents, so they know there are other options out there.”
For Jacob, the job, which he’s held for nearly three years, means a little extra spending money for his favorite pastime, watching movies. His collection of more than 100 movies is impressive and fuels his desire to someday pursue a career in acting.
“I love all movies,” he insisted, thrusting new copies of “Twilight,” “Bolt” and “Happily Ever After” onto his living room sofa. “I want to act one day, and I want my mom to call Fox so I can get a job acting.”
For more information about People First Wisconsin, call (414) 483-2546 or (888) 270-5352.