Happy birthday, Ben McRee

Ben was born with an intellectual disability and developed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. His mom, Kathy Trippe-McRee, brought him to Schreiber for help with his speech and his fine and gross motor skills.

He started learning sign language when he was 3.

“The first thing he ever signed was ‘reindeer’,” Kathy said. “It was a reindeer at Stauffer’s (of Kissel Hill), around Christmas time. He pointed at it and signed. … It was clear he understood what we were saying, but that’s when we knew he’d be able to express himself.”

Within a couple of months, he was talking. And the joke now is he hasn’t stopped.

Kathy said Ben spent about nine years coming here for therapy, then worked with learning support specialists from the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit through middle school and into high school in the Manheim Township School District.

He’s come back to Schreiber for the past three years to improve his attention and some of his fine motor skills. Therapist Kristen Schreiber used the pretense of a final therapy day to get him back to the center one last time.

More than a dozen Schreiber staffers turned out for the birthday celebration and to grab some cake (chocolate chip cookie) and ice cream (vanilla). Ben was amazed at how many people signed his card. “Mom, look at this,” he said, showing her the back of the card packed with signatures.

He became a little emotional while the group serenaded him with “Happy Birthday,” briefly turning toward his mom and hiding his face.

It’s an emotional time for Ben’s parents, too. He leaves high school in June with a future that will be different from the familiar environment of school. Kathy said they have a Person/Family Directed Support Waiver from the state that will provide money for job training at Goodwill and to attend United Disabilities Services’ adult enrichment program. Eventually, they hope to get him into his own supported apartment in a group home.

There’s a waiting list for the apartments, so for now he will stay at home. And Kathy will grin and bear those times when he doesn’t want to listen to Mom and Dad anymore.

Those moments of young-adult rebellion don’t define him, though. He’s too good a person. Always ready with a smile and a hello.

During the birthday gathering, Schreiber President and Friend of Ben James DeBord told a story from this past December. James and his youngest son Matthew went with Ben to Park City Center to do some holiday shopping.

“If you ever want to feel like the most popular guy in the room, hang out with Ben for awhile,” James said. “We couldn’t go anywhere in the mall without people yelling out, ‘Hey, Ben,’ ‘How’s it going, Ben.’ And not Schreiber people either.

“There are some people in life that just make you smile. Ben is one of those people.”