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Chris Clements: Learning to cope with family by his side

Tue, Dec 11, 2012

Chris Clements and his mother, Carol

StreetWise Vendor Chris Clements is 34 years old with a very young spirit and a friendly face. He’s the type of guy who will pull over to help a stranger change a flat tire. He’s the type of guy who will lend you $1 even if it’s all he has. He’s a StreetWise vendor who loves his job and works tirelessly, not because he has to, but because he wants to.

Although Chris’s good heart is the true essence of his character, he faces a disability that has caused him some trouble with the law, details of which he’d rather keep a private matter. “I have fetal alcohol syndrome. When you’re in the womb, your brain is not formed yet. So when the mother drinks, that alcohol is literally like acid to the baby [and] you get holes in the top of your brain, which affected my frontal lobe,” Chris explained.

His adopted mother, Carol, is a licensed psychotherapist with her own practice in Evanston. She and her husband both traveled to Portland, Oregon to receive special training in Chris’s disorder so they could give him the proper support that he needs.

“The frontal lobe is for executive function and it’s the part that can make a decision and think about what the consequences will be,” Carol said. “There’s a way that [Chris] doesn’t think about the consequences. I’m here to be his frontal lobe.”

With the support of his family, Chris is learning to cope with his disability. “We didn’t understand him before, because his brain injury puts him at a mental age of 10 to 15 instead of 34, which causes him behavior that doesn’t make sense with his age. So we all go to therapy every week and [he feels really supported] by us now. He’s being honest with us,” Carol said.

“[My mom] means everything to me,” Chris continued. “My parents have done so much for me, even just the research alone. That’s a lot.”

As Carol explained, individuals who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome are better able to cope when they have a routine. And because Chris loves to work, he had been searching for a job for months and couldn’t find anything, namely because of his record. That’s why StreetWise was such a blessing to him. “I’m my own boss. I make my own hours and I’m a workaholic. I’m out there every minute that I can be,” Chris said.

He currently vends in front of the Jewel Osco in Evanston, a mere block away from his parents home, where he currently lives.

“[StreetWise is good because Chris] can decide his own hours. Now for some people, they would just lull around because of that. But not him. And he’s so proud. We’ll go out to a fancy dinner and he’ll wear his StreetWise badge, because he’s just so proud. It gives him an identity and he is a good person,” Carol said.

Chris’s probation is not set to end for quite a long time, but once it’s finished, he hopes to return to either Montana or Colorado where much of his extended family resides. He’s lived in both places during his youth and he learned to mountain climb, hunt, ski and more. “I’m an outdoorsman. You stick me out in the middle of nowhere and I’ll be fine. I like to run with my dogs – I used to have six – and I ride horses. I’m still on the fire department in Montana. They still consider me on the department. I was on the fire department in Basalt, Colorado before and that’s where I got all my training,” Chris said.

In his free time, Chris is also a patron of the theatre, having periodically worked backstage when he was younger as a technical and lighting assistant for Woolson Production Group.

Today, Chris and his family are taking one step at a time and doing it the right way by doing it together in an atmosphere of love and support. “We’re hoping for more understanding [from the public about fetal alcohol syndrome] and lack of judgement,” concluded Carol. “We want to [help Chris] and I think with this job, he’s able to spread good energy.”

Written by Brittany Langmeyer, StreetWise Staff

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