Rebecca’s Story won and was featured in the National Down Syndrome Society February e-newsletter.


By Cyndi Johnson

Last August when I searched the yellow pages for dance classes for my 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca, I had no idea of the surprises that lay ahead.  I picked up the phone and called one of the numbers listed.  “Do you offer classes for preschoolers?”  The answer came, “Oh yes, we have a combo class…”  But the tone changed dramatically when I asked if they could accommodate a child with Down syndrome.  “No, we can’t…”   I dialed a second number and then a third, but the response was the same each time.

Determined, I dialed yet another number.  “Do you have any openings for a 4-year-old girl?”  When the instructor indicated there were spots available in her preschool class, I simply said, “I’d like to register my daughter…”

I did not mention Down syndrome during the phone conversation but decided to go early to the first class to speak with the instructor directly.  When we arrived, you could have toppled the instructor with a feather.  There stood Rebecca—tiny for her age due to her medical conditions—in her pink leotard and tutu, clutching her ballet slippers and tap shoes, her eyes sparkling through her glasses.  The instructor broke the silence, “She can’t possibly be 3 yet,” to which I replied, “Rebecca actually turned 4 a few weeks ago and had a ballet birthday party!  She dances every day.  She has some issues like low muscle tone and hearing loss, but I believe she’ll do fine.”  The instructor began lecturing me on how Rebecca must listen and behave appropriately if she was to participate, when in walked another mother with her daughter.

What happened next took everyone by surprise.  This little girl also wore a pink leotard and tutu, but she shared something else in common with Rebecca.  It was obvious that she too had a disability—some physical limitations and eyeglasses with thick lenses.  The expression on the instructor’s face turned from surprise to resignation, and she directed the girls to choose a colored square on the studio floor and have a seat.

Other girls arrived, and class began.  Rebecca followed directions, waited her turn, and even put on her own tap shoes.  She only needed help tying the laces (as did all the girls!).  Rebecca’s ability and cooperation clearly came as a surprise to the instructor, and she exclaimed after class almost in disbelief, “Rebecca did a great job!”

Over the next several weeks, Rebecca surprised even me as she learned the entire dance routine and performed in her first recital.  Her father and grandparents were in attendance and were astonished.  I watched proudly as other onlookers pointed her out and described her performance as “impressive,” “adorable,” and “a show stopper.”  Afterward, the instructor gave her a hug and warm words of praise.  In the end, I suspect she was the most surprised of all—not only by Rebecca’s capabilities, but also by the transformation that occurred within her own heart and mind.

Art of Chocolate fundraiser kicks off week of sweet treats

Double chocolate pecan truffles from Angel B's were on display. Christy Mullins | Herald-Times

Crowds of chocolate lovers gawked Sunday at a massive wedding portrait made entirely out of candy.

The bride wore a white Tic Tac gown and rock-candy veil. Black M&Ms made the groom’s suit. A rainbow’s variety of Nerds, all separated by color, made the bouquet. Black licorice rope outlined each flower.

People who paid $50 to be at the IU Art Museum stood in front of the candy portrait and giddily found Red Hots, Twizzlers and chocolate sprinkles.

“Love Sweet Love” took 40 hours to finish and wore a $5,000 price tag. It didn’t sell at Sunday night’s Art of Chocolate fundraiser, but it won Best in Show.

“I ate so much candy making this,” artist Lindsay Schroeder said. “I used six spray cans of finishing lacquer.”

Schroeder was inspired by a similar candy portrait of Beyonce that she saw on her honeymoon at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum in Orlando. So she decided to use candy to commemorate her wedding day and wouldn’t have been upset if it sold. “I can always make another one,” she said.

The Art of Chocolate fundraiser kicks off Bloomington’s Week of Chocolate each year with chocolate and wine tastings, live music, gallery tours and a juried art auction. Tickets, donations and art sales benefit LifeDesigns Inc., a non-profit agency that provides services for people with disabilities.

LifeDesigns will use the money raised from this year’s event to supplement some of its programs that lost some funding from state budget cuts, such as its education and work experience programs.

The turnout seemed on par with previous years — about 250 people on average — LifeDesigns CEO Susan Rinne said. Ticket sales were good, but organizers were nervous about the IU vs. Iowa basketball game happening at the same hour. Last year, the Art of Chocolate event drew more than 250 people and raised $28,000, both all-time highs.

Nevertheless, Rinne said she was excited as always about this year’s event, which pulled creativity from 15 artists and 11 local bakeries and restaurants. She had a taste at each vendor, to be fair.

From Angel B’s Galleria of Cakes there were cake truffles — not as rich as a traditional chocolate truffle, less expensive and with more flavor options, chef Mark Brethaur said. He and his wife, Loretta Brethaur, brought cake truffles in three flavors: double chocolate pecan, strawberry amaretto with white chocolate, and coconut rum with marzipan and candied orange peel, dusted with vanilla sugar and dipped in milk chocolate.

First-timers to the event, Feast Bakery Cafe brought classic hot chocolate with chocolate marshmallows made in house, and a handful of fancier treats. Dark chocolate creme brulee, bittersweet salted budino and hazelnut feuilletine mousse went fast. Feast chefs ran out of house-made tortilla chips for a popular chicken mole sauce, made with half a cup of chocolate.

Malibu Grill served Godiva Double Chocolate martinis made with Godiva white and dark chocolate liqueurs, creme de cacao and vodka.

There was no shame in pairing a martini with a glass of wine from Oliver Winery upstairs.

Artists on Sunday were asked to show how their artwork displays or represents the concept of “cultivating inclusion.”

Bloomington painter Dan Alexander started and finished a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., using melted Nestle chocolate, milk and food coloring. He worked busily and fielded questions from casual wine tasters and truffle eaters. The most common question: Can you eat it?

“Yes, obviously,” Alexander said, and licked his paint brush.

He hoped to sell the painting for $400.

[button sid=”button-1328131880″ link=”” target=”_blank” type=”1″ color=”white”]Visit Online Gallery[/button]

[button sid=”button-1328131947″ link=”” target=”_blank” type=”1″ color=”white”]Visit the Week of Chocolate Website[/button]

Other Week of Chocolate events

Chocolate Bingo — 6-10 p.m. Monday at the Bloomington Moose Lodge #1081, 1580 W. Bloomfield Road. Bingo winners will be given cash and a chocolate treat. Players will be able to buy a meal and beverages. The basic admission package costs $25. Call 336-5281.

Making Truffles — This truffle-making class benefits Martha’s House and will take place 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Bloomington Cooking School at 115 N. College Ave. Participants will take home samples and enjoy a light dinner. Admission is $45. Call 332-1444.

Chocolate Olympics — 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday in the Girls Inc. gym at 1108 W. 11th St. Competitions include a scooter obstacle course, hoop shoot contest, jump rope contest and cookie decorating. Admission is $5 per person or $15 per family. Call 336-7313.

Death by Chocolate Interactive Murder Mystery: “Murder in Casino City” — This event, benefiting Citizen Advocacy of South-Central Indiana, will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 100 N. Ind. 46. Attendees will enjoy Lennie’s decadent chocolate dessert with tea or coffee while watching a live play in which actors perform and drop clues about who committed a murder. They will then try to figure out “who dunnit.” Admission is $17 per person; $30 for two. Advance purchases are encouraged. Call 219-5566.

Chocolate Prom — 8-11 p.m. Friday at Rhino’s All-Ages Club, 331 S. Walnut St. There will be dancing to live music and free chocolate treats. Formal dress is optional. Admission is $10 per person or $15 per couple. Call 333-3430 or visit

Sundaes on Saturday — 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Monroe County History Center, 202 E. Sixth St. You will be able to design and eat your own sundaes with Bruster’s ice cream and chocolate toppings, learn the history of ice cream making, and enjoy old-time music. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for children ages 6-17. For members, it’s free. Call 332-2517.

Wonka’s Chocolate Carnival — This event, benefiting Amethyst House, will take place from 3-6 p.m. Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington, 311 S. Lincoln St. The carnival, inspired by the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” will feature games, activities and contests. There will be loads of chocolate delicacies, including a chocolate river. Admission is $5 per person or $15 per family. Call 336-3570.

Article Source: Christy Mullins, Herald Times Online

New LIFEDesigns a Well Designed Merger of Equals

With the start of a new year in a few days time, a new social service agency will be born. The agency will be doing the work of two other agencies that have for many years sought to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Those agencies, Christole and Options, will be no more, with the new LIFEDesigns assuming their functions.

Although there will be no layoffs with the merger, it still will save an estimated $200,000 annually and eliminate inevitable redundancies, particularly in administration.

The two organizations are complementary rather than competing, with Christole mostly operating group homes and apartments to house and care for clients with disabilities, while Options provides mostly in-home services to a similar group of client families. Not only will LIFEDesigns create savings, it will provide the opportunity for staff to move laterally or seek promotion within a larger worker pool.Susan Rinne, former Options’ Executive Director

The agencies fit well together and want this new agency to be seen as a merger of equals rather than as a takeover. Options, with a budget of $6.5 million, is somewhat larger than Christole, with its $4.1 million budget. Together, they’ll have the weight and buying power of a $10 million budget.

This is not the only merger on the horizon among social service agencies — with Bloomington’s several homeless shelters also working to come under a single umbrella.

In these times of great need and declining resources, it is wise to seek the efficiencies and reach that a larger operation provides. The concern, of course, is that the core mission of each agency is not lost. LIFEDesigns took a year and a half and a lot of work to create, work that’s necessary for success.

SOURCE: 2011


Christole, Options merging

Two agencies that serve people with disabilities will become LifeDesigns.

Susan Rinne, Options’ executive director
Susan Rinne, Options’ executive director

Christole and Options, two organizations that provide services and support to people with disabilities in south-central Indiana, have agreed to merge into a single entity — LifeDesigns Inc. — effective Jan. 1.

“I’m excited,” said Susan Rinne, Options’ executive director. “We’ve been working on this for the past year and half, and it’s wonderful to see it finally coming together.”

Rinne said merging the two organizations will save them a total of about $200,000 a year through reduced administrative costs, audit fees and insurance costs.

“The biggest savings will be on the health insurance side,” she said. “By becoming a bigger group we will be able to get lower rates for our full-time employees. And by having just one audit instead of two, and by putting our two administrations together, we will save money there as well.”

Bert Clemons, president and CEO of Christole, said LifeDesigns will be run by a single, 23-member board composed of members of each organization’s current boards, and the new organization will handle all the fundraising and have a single endowment fund rather than two separate ones.

“The two organizations have the same mission,” he said. “We want people with disabilities to live as independently as you or I.”

LifeDesigns’ annual budget will be $10.6 million — combining Options’ budget of $6.5 million and Christole’s budget of $4.1 million.

Clemons and Rinne both said they do not expect the merger to result in any layoffs.

“We will be able to bring everybody on board,” Rinne said. “That’s possible, in part, because over the past year, each organization has not filled positions that have opened up in anticipation of the merger.”

For example, she said, when Christole’s chief financial officer resigned last year, that position was not filled because of the impending merger. LifeDesigns will have just one chief financial officer. Rinne will serve as LifeDesigns’ chief executive officer and Clemons will be its chief operating officer.

Marianne Stemm, Christole’s human resources director, said, “Most of our staff are excited about the merger because it will provide them with more opportunities for lateral moves and promotions and advancing their careers.”

Rinne said the two organizations are now filing paperwork with state agencies informing them about the name change, and bringing the two agencies’ computer and human resources systems together.

“The reason for naming the new organization LifeDesigns is to emphasize that this is the merging of two equals into a new entity, not one group taking over another,” Rinne said.

Complementary services

Clemons said the merger will bring together two organizations with different strengths. He said 90 percent of Christole’s services are provided in group homes for people with developmental disabilities or autism and 10 percent are provided in clients’ homes or apartments. With Options, those percentages are reversed.

“There’s not much overlap,” he said. “It’s two agencies with complementary services that are coming together in one organization.”

LifeDesigns’ main office will be at 200 E. Winslow Road, Options’ current home.

Clemons said a decision has not yet been made concerning the future of Christole’s office in Nashville. Rinne said the new organization will serve more than 350 individuals in Monroe, Greene, Brown, Morgan, Lawrence, Owen, Bartholomew and Johnson counties.

Rinne said LifeDesigns hopes to have its new website — — up and running in January, and by next summer or early fall plans to complete its $1.1 million building project that will replace one of its aging group homes and add four affordable housing units to be rented to low-income members of the community.

Source: Dann Denny, 2011

Options enters the age of social networking!

If you’re on Facebook, sign up now to become a “fan” of Options.

“Like!” us and share the word about Options with your friends. Simply do a Facebook search for Options and click on the response that shows our logo.  Becoming a fan will provide you with frequent updates about the people and events that are important to us.

It will also help us to spread the word about Options to your network of friends on Facebook! Thanks for helping Options get started on Facebook!

Susan Rinne of LIFEDesigns named Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

The 2011 Fuse Business Innovation awards were presented Thursday at a luncheon at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center, as follows:

  • Small Business Advocate of the Year: Mike Gentile, Crane Technology Inc.
  • Social Entrepreneur of the Year: Susan Rinne, CEO of Options
  • Community Service Award: Ivy Tech Community College, Bloomington campus
  • Microenterprise of the Year: Twisted Limb Paperworks
  • Innovative Business of the Year: Chalk Labs, LLC
  • Entrepreneurial Growth Award: New Power Solutions
  • Bill and Gayle Cook Entrepreneur of the Year: Pat East, Hanapin Marketing

Jim Inman served as master of ceremonies for the presentation, hosted by the West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center. The keynote speaker was Josh Bleill, community spokesman for the Indianapolis Colts.

Copyright: 2011