IUPD worker’s ‘success story’ featured in statewide documentary

UPDATED with video on 1/17

She might not wear a uniform, but Cheryl Thompson is part of the fabric of the Indiana University Police Department.

Thompson, who has a developmental disability, spent most of her life at home with her parents before moving to Bloomington in 2006. Family members had worried others might prey on her vulnerabilities, but they quickly learned to see other possibilities thanks to Bloomington-based advocacy organization Stone Belt.

Cheryl Thompson

Cheryl Thompson on the job at IUPD. Photo courtesy of Kendall Reeves of Spectrum Studio and United Way.

“Working at the Indiana University Police Department, we’ve seen her develop and become this totally different person,” sister Trish Ierino said, adding with a chuckle, “Now, her social life runs circles around mine. She’s part of a bowling team, goes out to dinner with her girlfriends, has her job and participates in so many other activities. All of that is because of the support we received from Stone Belt and IUPD. Cheryl is a true success story.”

Thompson is one of a half-dozen people being featured in a documentary by statewide advocacy organization The Arc of Indiana, focused on individuals with disabilities who are successful in their work environments. The documentary, “Pathways to Employment,” will be screened at 6 p.m. today, Jan. 15, at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis, complete with a “red carpet” welcome and fancy reception.

“Cheryl’s never met a stranger,” IUPD Capt. Greg Butler said last week. “She’s really happy to work here, and she’s a hard worker. She does our shredding, sweeps the floors, vacuums and generally cleans, and is just as busy as can be.”

The department throws Thompson a birthday party each August, and co-workers exchange gifts with her during the holiday season. She loves jewelry, he said, and wears her own IUPD badge pinned proudly to her shirt while at work.

Ernie Hamm, who had Down syndrome, worked at IUPD for nearly a decade before his death a few years ago, Butler said.

“After the first year Ernie was with us, the chief said Ernie’s done a lot more for us than we’ve ever done for him,” Butler said. “We’re trained to interact in situations involving people with disabilities, but being able to spend time with Ernie and Cheryl gives us a first-hand perspective and a greater appreciation for their presence. Just like the chief said, they get a lot from being here, but we get a lot more from them being with us. They’re literally part of our family.”

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