“Everybody knows me everywhere,” she said. “Everywhere I go, I see someone I know.”
Phillips, a 49-year-old Cleveland native, who is a service recipient of Life Bridges — an organization that assists mentally challenged adults with everything from housing to job placement — has a scrapbook full of the photos and names of people she met in different stages of her life, from her childhood to the present.
Photos of her as 11-year-old Girl Scout sit pages away from a photo of her with her current co-workers. Memories are the most valuable things she owns.
Phillips said she knows her condition, Down syndrome, limits her in some ways, but she is quick to point out what she has been able to accomplish. She is a high school graduate with a social life and a job she enjoys. She also has her very own apartment not far from Lee University.
Through Life Bridges’ work program, Phillips found a job working at the Deacon Jones Dining Hall at Lee University.
Staff member Gary Ownbey said Life Bridges has placed 45 of its current service recipients in jobs around the community. Another 20 or so do contract work in the organization’s workshop, which usually entails assembling small items for local factories. Phillips said an example of one of the tasks is to attach rubber grips to broom handles for a company that makes them.
The center also provides medical services to those who need them and housing for those who cannot live on their own. One thing Phillips said she really enjoys is that the center provides a variety of social activities for service recipients. She said one of the highlights of her week is to go out for dinner with friends from Life Bridges every Thursday night.
Ownbey said the center also takes people to compete in the Special Olympics, hosts events like picnics and an annual prom, and encourages service recipients to get involved with other activities like basketball and softball.
Phillips has competed in the Special Olympics most years since she was a teenager. She said she loves getting to show how well she can do, and spend time with friends.
“I started that when I was young,” Phillips said. “I enjoy swimming, running — stuff like that.”
She has won many different ribbons over the years, including several for first place wins. Phillips said she got to travel to Nashville for the last Special Olympics in which she participated. While she loves to win, she said her favorite part is watching her friends compete.
“Every time I go, I enjoy being with other handicapped people and cheering them on,” Phillips said. “I just feel great inside because it’s all about the people enjoying themselves.”
Life Bridges serves adults who are too old to be in the public school system, which only allows adults to be students until the age of 21. But Phillips didn’t leave high school simply because of her age. She said she holds a diploma from Bradley Central High School.
“I was an A student,” she said, beginning to list her favorite classes, including home economics, science, history and gym.
Throughout school, even through some of her teenage years, Phillips was involved in Girl Scouts. She said she enjoyed everything from cooking, to doing crafts, to camping. She especially liked activities that took place outside.
“In Girl Scouts, they have lots of activities,” Phillips said. “I enjoyed the outdoors.”
Still, as in other parts of her life, she said her favorite part was getting to know the other girls in her troop. She became close friends with some of them, even until one later passed away as an older adults.
After finishing high school, she has continued to stay involved in the Special Olympics though she quit Girl Scouts.
Now, her main focus is doing well as she works at Life Bridges and Lee University.
“I work at Lee in the main cafeteria,” said Phillips, who works there every weekday during Lee’s regular fall and spring semesters and describes it as a “loud, happy place.”
Her work entails clearing tables of stray dirty dishes and wiping them down, cleaning the kitchen and sometimes scanning the ID cards of students on the university’s meal plan.
“I enjoy talking to my friends that work there,” she said. “I also talk to all the students when I scan their picture IDs.”
She said the work might be boring if it weren’t for the people she gets to see each day. The students can sometimes be noisy when they socialize over meals, but she said she likes the life they bring to the space.
“Sometimes, when I’m working, I can even hear them sing,” Phillips said. “I like that.”
Phillips said that every job has “some un-fun things,” but she is thankful for the chance to work because she knows that some of her friends cannot.
“She’s a really good worker,” Ownbey said, adding that some of Life Bridges workers require extra help at work but that Phillips works independently.
“I live by myself,” Phillips said proudly. “I do my own cooking and cleaning — stuff like that.”
She has many hobbies she enjoys when she is at home. One of them is adding to the scrapbook filled to the brim with photos, newspaper clippings and Special Olympics memorabilia she loves to show off to her friends.
“I also do a lot of crafts,” she said. “I also like movies and old-timey TV shows and going outside. I got a small garden.”
But Phillips said her favorite thing to do when she is not at work is to spend time with the friends she knows and work at making new ones.
“I live around lots of people,” she said.