#Changemakers in the Disabilities Community: Rob Mehnert

courtesy Rob Mehnert
courtesy Rob Mehnert

When Rob Mehnert’s son Ryan was born, the trajectory of Rob’s life changed. Ryan William Mehnert was born with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The Mehnerts didn’t realize it at the time, but Ryan’s disabilities would result in their deep, fulfilling involvement in a community with which they were not yet familiar.

“Ryan got involved in Special Olympics [SO] through the Carrollton-Farmers Branch team. Back then – this was about 24 years ago – the team only had eight athletes and they needed more male chaperones. I stepped up to coach, and later on I became a board member and fundraiser,” shared Rob.

Through Ryan’s life, SO continuously fueled his confidence and filled his parents’ and brother’s lives with joy and purpose. Ryan played two sports but Rob ended up coaching five separate sports. Rob’s wife, Lori, served on an area committee, helped out with Rob’s team, was key in fundraising and did speech coaching for some of the athletes.

Rob, Ryan and Lori carrying the Special Olympics flame // photos courtesy the Mehnerts
Rob, Ryan and Lori carrying the Special Olympics flame // photos courtesy the Mehnerts

“Coaching five sports at once was so fun but a lot of work. Quite often, I’d be home for dinner once a week, twice a week. Between coaching and events, running a program, running events, working directly with athletes…I did a lot of work behind the scenes,” shared Rob.

Rob found himself heavily involved because he fell in love with watching his athletes – and his son – grow through their experiences at SO.

“The best part is watching. What SO is all about is building self-confidence within each individual athlete…If you build it in practices and on the field, you see that enter their life. To the point where they try new things…Some of the athletes I worked with have become employed successfully. Watching that self-confidence enter into the life – it enriches their lives so much,” Rob said.

Rob (bottom center) served as coach of an all-star flag football team
Rob (bottom center) served as coach of an all-star flag football team

Rob Meets My Possibilities

Through Rob’s level of involvement in SO, he gained many friends throughout the community of adults with disabilities. That included athletes that attended My Possibilities (MP), a Plano-based nonprofit that offers vocational education and job placement for adults with IDD.

In 2008, MP was moving into its location at 15th Street and Custer. Board member Julie Puma knew Rob, and she gave him a call. Though Rob is now retired after a 35-year career with Sherwin-Williams, he was the division director of marketing services at that time.

“Julie talked to me about what they were doing and said they needed help with color design. They needed help with that and the cost of paint,” Rob remembered. “I talked to one of our color design specialists. We met with Julie and I learned even more about MP.”

Rob went to his boss at the time to ask about helping out with paint for the new facility. Sherwin-Williams agreed to donate all the paint and supplies. A church group volunteered their painting services.

“We didn’t want it done halfway, so one of our application specialists, one of our product specialists and I went over to MP, trained the group and painted, too,” said Rob.

After a weekend of painting, Rob still went every day after work to paint. He painted hallways and bathrooms and anything that needed to get done for the imminent opening. Through all that time spent at MP, he got to know the leadership team.

“Their executive director, Michael, and I became friends. We would get together every now and then. The idea of the new campus came into play. Just listening to him talk about that, it was something I think is needed for the IDD community – a strong education and job placement program, enriching their lives. I was so excited about it,” shared Rob.

MP stayed on Rob’s mind through his work with SO. Ryan, Rob’s son, was not able to participate in MP as his specific needs would make it difficult for him to participate in vocational education. Still, Rob of course felt inherently tied to the IDD community and in turn, MP.

Sherwin-Williams had a grant program in which any employee can champion a cause. The company offered one grant per quarter to the organization of the employee’s choice. After hearing about the new campus for MP – which they moved into in 2018 – Rob applied, and MP was chosen that quarter. The $20,000 grant certainly helped make MP’s dreams of a new campus for higher learning possible.

On top of the grant, Sherwin-Williams decided to offer the nonprofit organization aggressive pricing on paint to make painting the new, large facility less expensive.

Rob presenting the grant check from Sherwin-Williams // courtesy My Possibilities
Rob presenting the grant check from Sherwin-Williams // courtesy My Possibilities

A Lasting Relationship

In 2016, Ryan passed away unexpectedly. Ryan lived to be 28, and in his life, he brought joy and laughter to each person he encountered. He loved his friends, music, good food, dogs and answering the phone. Through SO, which he participated in for 18 years, he was a local and state champion in bowling and track and field.

“When Ryan passed away, we had a bank account for him where we’d put his Christmas money or birthday money,” Rob shared. “We were wondering what to do with it. Well, we decided to close the bank account and donate the money to MP for high-tech classroom whiteboards. They put a plaque with his name under each one of those. It felt like the right thing to do to close out that part of his life. Now, those boards benefit people that he had been in contact with throughout his life.”

Ryan’s legacy lives on through the support the Mehnert family has shown and continues to show to MP and its clients, the HIPsters. Every time a HIPster uses the technology donated in Ryan’s honor, they see his name.

A plaque underneath one of Ryan's whiteboards // courtesy MP
A plaque underneath one of Ryan’s whiteboards // courtesy MP

The Mehnerts recently retired and relocated to the mountains of North Carolina, but plan to continue actively supporting MP and staying involved with SO by coaching in their new town once the pandemic ends.

“We walked a path we never thought we’d walk through having Ryan,” Rob reflected. “That walk was difficult. It had its really bad days. But it was also very rich and very rewarding. When Ryan figured something out, when he finally got it, that look on his face and the joy and laughter – those were special moments. I wouldn’t trade that walk with him for anything.”

My Possibilities >

 

The above content is sponsored. We have partnered with My Possibilities to spotlight #Changemakers in the disabilities community.

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