Updated: Jun 22, 2021
By Bill Fenbers
As an individual with autism, it was suggested that I stop working permanently in 2015, after going through four jobs in ten months.
For several months afterward, I did very little in terms of activity, mainly due to depression. Friends and counselors had suggested I try volunteering, but I told them all that I didn’t feel I’d get any satisfaction from doing so.
One nonprofit I had heard about in the spring of 2014 was Marjorie Book Continuing Education (MBCE). This is an organization that brings individuals with and without disabilities together through community education classes, service projects, and theater. But in 2014, I really didn’t know much about the group, other than they performed theater.
In February 2016, I had lunch with Joe, the Executive Director of the group. We spoke about the group over lunch, and Joe added me to MBCE’s email list, but nothing happened on my end for another two months.
On a Wednesday evening in April 2016, I reluctantly went to an MBCE rehearsal for two one-act play, The Blind Date and Where the Cross is Made. I think Joe felt I would eventually participate, but he never pushed me into anything. My first night with MBCE was spent meeting other members of the group, and then I filled in for an absent cast member during that evening’s rehearsal. I continued to attend rehearsals, either to fill in for absent cast members or to help cast members with running their lines for whichever play they were in.
I wasn’t involved in the public performances, but my name was always on the list of Thank You’s, on the inside cover the play programs distributed to spectators.
I opted to expand my volunteering outside of theatre with Marjorie Book Continuing Education. I began participating in service-learning projects in the community. Projects included cleaning up trash and trimming bushes in local parks, along with raking and bagging leaves for homeowners who were either senior citizens, disabled, or lived on a low income.
The members of MBCE warmed up to me almost immediately. And I warmed up to them as well. I began to appreciate what the members with disabilities were capable of doing. Whether it was a physical or developmental disability, these individuals showed that they are capable of performing in theater, helping in community service, and taking advantage of MBCE’s fall and spring continuing education classes. They’ve taken advantage of these inclusive opportunities that may not otherwise be available to them.
It was also during 2016 that I pretty much hit the ground running with the fundraising side of MBCE. This included selling advertising for play programs and obtaining raffle items for the annual Recognition Dinner & Raffle. I was commended for my efforts by Joe and the MBCE Board of Directors. We raised $850, which helped fund the programs offered by MBCE for individuals with and without disabilities.
Another fundraising event MBCE does is the annual Movin’ for Inclusion 5K Walk. I’ve been fortunate and lucky to be the top fundraiser for this event four years in a row (2016-2019).
Fundraising is very important to Marjorie Book Continuing Education, as it’s an organization that’s volunteer-driven and keeps its administrative overhead very low.
I returned to volunteering with Marjorie Book Continuing Education in 2017, through community service and volunteering with theatre rehearsals. Cast members were very grateful for my assistance with their lines, and for my help in other parts of the plays (eye contact, blocking, etc.).
It was during 2017 that I began taking on other tasks with MBCE. I became an admin for MBCE’s Facebook page in June, and I also created a Twitter account for MBCE. In 2018, when MBCE launched its new website, I was given the responsibility of keeping the site up-to-date.
I began attending Marjorie Book Continuing Education’s Board of Directors Meetings in February 2018. While I was and still am a non-voting member, I have offered insight and suggestions to market better our organization, along with voicing sensible opinions regarding other matters on a particular month’s agenda My efforts helped Marjorie Book Continuing Education raise over $1,700 for its 25th Anniversary Celebration, held in April 2018. It was at this event that I received MBCE’s annual “Outstanding Participation” Award for my work with the organization in 2017.
My participation with MBCE declined in 2018, due to my decision to re-enter the workforce in October 2017. However, I still made time for MBCE in my free time. In July 2018, I made my theatrical debut in a small role for MBCE’s production of Hit and Misdemeanor. I received many compliments on my debut, and I was happy to help out by filling the role for an individual who had other commitments.
In 2019, I took my first role in a full-length play produced by Marjorie Book Continuing Education, performing the role of “Hubert” in the Carl L. Williams comedy, A Little Off the Top. Again, I received many compliments for my performances.
It was also during 2019 that I was able to get MBCE some much-needed publicity from the media. The organization was featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer, and a couple of members participated in a live on-air interview on WCPO to promote our June play, Major Braggart, by Plautus. Through the efforts of members of the Board of Directors, MBCE was featured on The Art Show on PBS in October 2019.
Along with assisting Marjorie Book Continuing Education, I’ve been assisting the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati since 2016. What started as assisting with a Facebook group page has expanded to be their Social Media Coordinator for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
I’ve become an autism self-advocate and have been fortunate to join other self-advocates in speaking to groups and classes about autism and, in particular, adults with autism. I’ve also done solo speaking presentations and presentations where I assist Amanda Tipkemper, an Autism Services Manager, with her presentations to Xavier University “Introduction to Special Education” students.
My work for the Autism Society Greater Cincinnati were recognized in a big way in May of 2018, as I received the “Faces of Autism” Ambassador award. I was nominated for this award by Ms. Tipkemper, whom I’ve known since I started attending Adults with Autism Support Group meetings in 2014.
I’ve definitely turned my life around since 2016. From the depression of being unemployable, and not being interested in volunteering, to where I’m at now, having obtained the sense of accomplishment I currently have for the volunteer work I’ve accomplished and will continue to do.
I never thought my volunteer work would be as appreciated as it is, both from my peers and by the people in the communities we work in. I’m thankful to have worked with people of all abilities and seeing my hard work, and everybody else’s hard work, pay off.
Bill Fenbers is an adult on the autism spectrum who currently works with two Cincinnati nonprofits; Marjorie Book Continuing Education and the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati. Follow him on Twitter @Bill_Fenbers.