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Mentes con Alas: building sweet outcomes for adults with CP

Mexican adults with cerebral palsy (CP) are enjoying productive, meaningful lives thanks to the training, employment and social inclusion services provided by Mentes con Alas. The organisation has received a World Cerebral Palsy Day 2018 Merit Award because of the tremendous contribution its services make to the CP community.

The mission

Born from the concern of parents who worried for the future of their children, Mentes con Alas, which translates to ‘Minds with Wings’, was established as a community-style rehabilitation program for adults with CP.

Among other desired outcomes, the organisation is on a mission to develop a nationally recognised community that lifts the potential within individual and groups of adults with CP. They call this a ‘Community of Life.’

Minds with Wings defines a Community of Life as: “a group of people who wish to live in a harmonious environment, inspired by ethical and human values, and to this end they create a space and a social network.”

The Community of Life they’ve created has a maximum of 35 people. Each prospect undergoes a physical, psychological, family, socio-cultural and economic assessment to ensure compatibility prior to being integrated into the community. The service is open to men and women over 21 years of age.

As part of a community, members partake in a comprehensive rehabilitation program that includes: rehabilitation and health, emotional and socio-affective rehabilitation; learning and development of cognitive abilities; productive integration and social integration.

It is within the productive integration component that members take part in Alas Creativas, or Creative Wings, at the organisation’s Center for Training and Entrepreneurship. Here several programs are run to teach the skills to encourage adults with CP to engage in meaningful work. This is not only with the goal of income generation but also self-worth, productivity and social inclusion.

Planning for productivity

Establishing a program through which adults with CP could work together, develop skills and produce an end result was challenging. After much brainstorming and analysis of different activities, the production of lolly bags, locally known as ‘bolos’ was settled on.

Key determinants in this decision were:

  • demand for the product
  • budget
  • physical capacity of the participants.

It was established there is a local market for bolos as they are given as gifts at parties and various other seasonal occasions. The production process is also relatively low cost.

Initially, individuals with CP were preparing each bag, before it became apparent that a production line would result in a faster outcome.

Each person in the production line is strategically positioned – after being assessed on mobility, ability and dexterity.

In 2010, production officially commenced, and 5000 bolos were sold by the end of the first year. This encouraged the group to expand production, adding more workers to the process and the consideration of automation.

Partner in productivity

In order to automate the production line, in 2014 Minds with Wings partnered with machinery company John Deere Mexico.

The company launched a competition among its employees to devise the best production line possible for automating the bolos process.

At the end of the competition, two fully functional productions lines were donated by John Deere.

One production line is fully automated with an electrical band for those adults with CP who have less motor skills, while the other is designed for those with more mobility.

These production lines, along with the development of marketing and logistical strategies has helped increase productivity and sales. At the end of 2017, 14,000 bolos had been sold with the program currently running at a 35 per cent profit.

Overcoming obstacles

Of course, a project such as this is not without its challenges.

One substantial challenge being the training and capacity building of participants, both physically and mentally.

Motivating and instilling a ‘philosophy of work’ into adults with CP who have been dependent on others for so long is at the core of the program. Participants learn skills such as punctuality, responsibility, team work and commitment.

Raising social awareness of the cause has also been a challenge, which is being overcome by brand positioning and marketing.

Production Coordinator, Clara Ocampo, explains that the goal of their marketing strategy is to show the public that: “It is not just a bag of sweets that they are buying, it is more than that. It is solidarity with the cause, to have the opportunity to help make this group of adults with CP productive and proactive.”

A promising future

The results of the program to date are impressive. As well as profits and market share, the program has produced a cohesive, committed team of workers who are involved in all aspects of the project including planning, inventory, marketing and customer service.

Two members of the team have even taken on leadership roles.

The project’s most important outcome has been the benefits to the participants. The adults with CP who’ve been involved have been given an outlet for creativity, productivity and self-sufficiency.

“With the creation of the Center for Entrepreneurship, ’Alas Creativas’, our vision and all our efforts are focused towards productivity,” says Angelica, one of the team members who has taken on a leadership role.

Following the success of the bolos project, Alas Creativas is now working on two more programs:

  • the Cake Shop – which will produce cookies, granola bars and Arabic bread
  • the Laundry – which will be a laboratory type laundry designed to teach skills and train adults with CP, who can then potentially be hired by a commercial laundry outside the community, achieving full employment inclusion.

“People with CP have brilliant minds and are people with as much desire to succeed, to work, to be productive, to generate, as much as you, as everyone,” – Ruth Berlanga de Ávila, Director and Founder of Mentes con Alas.