Thursday, January 03, 2008

Meet Rudy Newman

A little smile flickered across his face when he noticed me as I stepped through the doorway and into busy dinning room.

"Hey Rudy! How are you?"

"Hello Ms. Matthews. I'm fine, thank you. " Rudy responded in his oh-so-polite and very precise manner, which I have come to know well over the past six years.

"My mother will be arriving at 12:15. Would you like to have a seat, and may I take your order for a beverage?"

"Where would you like me to sit Rudy?"

"Many people like this table here by the wall." Rudy motioned to a large six top near the back of the room.

"Oh, it will only be your mom and I for lunch. Perhaps you would like to save that table for a bigger group. Can we sit here?" I pointed to a small table in the center of the dinning room.

Rudy blinked once. "Of course. Here is a menu. Can I bring you a beverage?", he asked again.

"Just some water right now. Thanks Rudy." I couldn't stop grinning as Rudy headed over to the bar to fill my glass. I was so proud of him.

I got to know Rudy when my friend and colleague at Max Hayes High School, Nicole Sellman-Penny, asked if I would consider taking on a young man from her special needs class for students with multiple handicaps. He was autistic, she told me, but he liked to draw and she thought his work looked pretty good. I went to her classroom the next morning to meet Rudy, and took a look at some of the drawing he had done in his notebook. "Damn!" I thought to myself, "This kid has some skills."

Rudy was a little nervous about participating in a mainstream art class, and so Nicole and I decided to have a couple more of his MH classmates, who enjoyed art but had no special talent, attend the class with him.

In the art studio environment, Rudy thrived. He was, by far, the most motivated of all my students. After methodically completing the regular classroom projects, and taking on any extra credit work I offered the class, I would often notice him helping his MH classmates with their art work. In his junior year, he was commissioned to paint a sign for Malachi Mart in the Flats. It was just a simple sign - the name of the store, the lettering copied from a business flyer - although quite large. But most impressive was the patience and dedication he put into completing the job, remarkable for any teenager, let alone for a young person growing up with a severe disability.

Rudy graduated valedictorian in 2006. Although he was a special needs student, there was very little grumbling from the rest of his graduating class at Max Hayes, who were in the regular academic track. Everyone who knew Rudy also knew how hard he had to work, and everyone who really knew Rudy couldn't help but to love him.

Since graduation he has taken some classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art where his older sister, Melanie, is a student. Because the instructors at the college do not have much experience working with autistic people, Rudy is not fitting into the program at the Institute as well as his parents had hoped.

I suggested that, perhaps, he might like to come back to Max Hayes to work in the art studio a couple days a week, and I would be able to give him whatever guidance or instruction he needed. We checked with the principal, David Volosin, to see if there would be any problem with having Rudy come back to the school, and happily, he agreed to allow him to come in and work as an artist in residence.

I was having lunch that day with Rudy's mom, Delores Newman, for two reasons. First, because she is delightfully charming, funny, and smart, with that common sense type of wisdom borne of dealing with life's challenges. We were also there to talk about Rudy, and to see how things were going at his first real job, working as a server at Susie Porter's haven of hospitality and southern comfort food on Superior Avenue in Cleveland's Mid-Town neighborhood, the Town Fryer.

It is not at all surprising that Susie and Delores are friends. Upon first meeting, one gets the feeling from both of these gals of comfortable familiarity and genuine openness. Rudy has developed a quiet affection for Susie, and in his very formal manner, even asked permission to call her "aunt". I can't imagine a safer place for Rudy to try his own wings than under the loving, watchful eye of Susie Porter and her staff at the Town Fryer.

Rudy begins his residency at Max Hayes next week, and soon I will be posting some of his artwork online. Keep your eye on this blog for updates, and please stop by the Town Fryer for lunch and to say hello.

Click here to check out the Town Fryer page on My Space

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Anonymous said...

Hey, I remember Rudy. He would fit in well at my school. We only have ADHD and Asperger's kids. What was that cartoon he liked? Hungerforce patrol- or something like that. The talking fries and hamburger. That cracks me up when I think about when we had the field trip to CAI and he was doing impressions. I'm glad to hear he has a job and is doing well.
Last year I was in Dayton at the same school system for ADHD and Asperger's. Before that I was at a charter school in Dayton only for six weeks before I was laid off. I was ok with it though. They had sent me to Las Vegas for training. I felt like I got a lot out of them for only six weeks- haha.
Now I'm pregnant- married too- due April 24th with a girl. My wish is to be a stay at home mom. But, I don't think I'm getting that, so more teaching for me. I love my students but they are waaaayyyy exhausting!

Anonymous said...

forgot to sign that comment-
Love, Alice

marybeth said...

Cogratulations Alice!

My, my ...pregnant AND married. What a concept!

At least you will have the summer months to enjoy your little daughter before you have to go back to work. You will get used to the schedule. Actually teaching lets you spend a lot more time with your child than most other jobs.

Great news kiddo!

derek said...

I believe the cartoon is called Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I am a fan. I am also a fan of you, MaryBeth, the Town Fryer (I am overdue for another visit) and of CMSD students beating the odds (I am a CMSD alum myself).

This is a great story.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Aqua Teen Hunger Force! I saw a DVD of it at a bookstore before Christmas and I was remembering Rudy and my time with MaryBeth and then she wrote this story. Serendipity (sp?).

Cleveland Carole Cohen 3C said...

This story is so inspiring! I used to teach and it was heart rending, how starved for adult modeling some of my high school students were. I thank Jill for pointing out your blog which I will have to read regularly now. Have a great weekend.

marybeth said...

Thank you for the kind words Carole.
I really appreciate the comments that folks take the time to leave. When I know people are reading it inspires me to keep writing. Especially now, since you've said you used my post in class. I'm truly flattered

Anonymous said...

hi Marybeth, it's Dolores Newman. We love the article! Let's have dinner soon so Rudy can join us instead of work this time. I think you have the number. I can't thank you enough for Rudy's opportunity this year as artist in residence. Will wait to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary Beth,
What a great story!! I've known Rudy since he was 2 years old. His mother is a close and dear friend.
Your description of both of them is accurate . Dolores is a fantastic person and a great friend. Rudy is very talented and fortunately he is blessed to have a mother that believes in him and encourages him to reach for the sky. The Newman's are wonderful people and it is nice to see that others recognize this too.

Miriam Ortiz Rush

Anonymous said...

Don't believe that Susie Porter is helping Rudy. She has a l-o-n-g history of exploiting the disadvantaged.

Example 1. She once hired a retarded kid named Sam. Sam worked like a dog for her. She had him use his own truck AND gas money to run all kinds of errands for her with NO reimbursement. Susie doesn't own a car and has trouble getting supplies for the Town Fryer. When she eliminated dinner hours, she eliminated Sam with no notice.

Example 2. After she first opened, Porter hired a recovering drug addict, and the Plain Dealer ran this big article on how great Porter was for doing this. It turns out that she didn't pay him regularly. The guy's father had to demand that Susie pay the guy for the hours he worked. Mysteriously, she fired him once she got behind on paying him again. This time, the guy's father got no results, even after he was blue in the face arguing with her.

Example 3. Susie does not pay her waitresses at all - not even the minimum wage, as required by law. Waitresses must content themselves to survive on tips alone, without the $2.30/hour minimum wage for servers.

Example 4. Porter hires battered women from the women's shelter near E. 26th Street. These poor women have to beg to get paid for their hours worked. Porter lets them get repaid by allowing them to run up a bar bill or a food bill and weasels out of paying them in cash. I don't think these women had "Will work for food and beer" on their minds when they came to the Town Fryer for help and a fresh start.

Example 5. One of her first employees was an Afro-American with an out-going personality, great with customers and quick behind the bar. He sold her a car, which she promptly resold for cash. Susie doesn't have her own car, even today. She never paid him, in spite of numerous attempts by the man to collect the money. She fired him too.

If you doubt any of this, look into Susie's accounting records to show how much she has paid in with holding taxes since she has opened the business. She pays EVERYONE under the table, and she has yet to be investigated.

Don't support this local version of a sweat shop that takes advantage of the people who need a hand the most.