By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A controversy that arose when a group of developmentally disabled customers were asked to leave the Havre Vets Club last week has been resolved, according to representatives of both sides.
Havre VFW Post Commander Jim Matter said today that members of People First, a self-advocacy group for the developmentally disabled, and other developmentally disabled people "can come into the club anytime they want to and stay as long as they want."
Rebecca Hargis, an adviser for People First, said she is happy with the outcome of several meetings she had with Matter.
"That's what I was looking for, that we had the right to be there like any other customer," she said.
About 25 developmentally disabled people and staffers from area group homes and activity centers, including many members of People First, were at the Vets Club for karaoke on Sept. 25. Some of the staffers were on duty and supervising the group. Others were just joining them for karaoke, said Hargis, a case manager for Opportunity Resources Inc. The group was asked to leave by the club manager.
Matter said that when club manager Gary Crossler asked the group to leave at 9 p.m., he was concerned for their safety once more people showed up and started drinking. The People First group had been going to karaoke once a month from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Eagles Club and switched to the Vets Club last week when Joe Ross stopped putting on karaoke at the Eagles.
Matter said the concern for the group's safety arose because some customers at the club have harassed developmentally disabled people in the past. The club has developmentally disabled people in it on a regular basis, he added.
Matter said he agrees with Hargis that the developmentally disabled should be able to make their own choices about risk.
"It's just the way the world is today," he said. "Everyone's coming to realize that (the disabled) don't have to be hidden away."
Hargis said it is a commonly accepted idea among professionals who work with developmentally disabled people that they should make their own choices about taking risks.
She wanted to reach an agreement with the VFW to make sure the post commander and the committee that oversees the club don't condone discrimination, she added.
Becky Wimmer, a customer who was angered by the manager's actions, said today she thinks the resolution of the controversy is "wonderful."
"They always should have been able to make their own choice," she added.
Jeff Richter, an assistant residential manager for Big Sandy Activities Inc., who was at the club that night, said it appears the VFW is doing the best it can to make up for asking the group to leave. It will be up to the people themselves whether they want to go back, he added.
"If our people want to go there, we'll go there," he said.
Hargis said the same is true for the Havre People First members.