“Life is Looking Up at Downsize Farm” are the guiding words of an Ohio social services agency that helps adults with developmental disabilities acquire skills to lead fulfilling, productive lives.

Former dairy farmers Bob and Midge Custer opened Downsize Farm in 2008 to provide job and social skills training for families in five rural counties that lack such services compared to urban areas. As the parents of two young adults born with Down syndrome, the couple didn’t want isolated lives for Levi and foster son Eric.

“A long time ago, society had a lower set of expectations that left people [with developmental disabilities] living far below their potential,” said Bob Custer. “It’s all about changing the paradigm by taking services to a rural setting and allowing people with disabilities to no longer just act as consumers but contributors.”

Downsize Farm is now a Medicaid-certified agency with 30 full- and part-time employees and a caseload of about 60, and the Custers recently learned they were the $5,000 grand prize winners of the third annual Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives #WhoPowersYou contest.

“It’s totally unexpected,” said Bob Custer. “I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”

The prize money will go toward office furniture at a new job training site in nearby Springfield. There, Downsize Farm clients will learn how to operate equipment and run a secure shredding business.

The Custers were nominated by Jodi Borger, communications coordinator at Pioneer REC in Piqua, Ohio. “They are the most warm and welcoming people I’ve ever met,” said Borger. “Their dedication and commitment to people with disabilities in our local communities is inspiring.”

This year's #WhoPowersYou winners were among some 300 nominations reviewed by an independent panel of judges.

  • The $2,000 second prize went to Paula Beaton. Her son, Hunter, started Day 1 Bags, which provides foster children with high-quality duffel bags of supplies. Beaton was nominated by Donna Hilsmeier at Bandera Electric Cooperative in Bandera, Texas.

  • The winner of the $1,500 third prize was Ronnie Kahle Sr. The 82-year-old member of Paulding-Putnam Electric Cooperative in Paulding, Ohio, was behind the development of the 80-acre Four Seasons Park and Plum Creek Nature Area in the Village of Kalida, Ohio. Paulding-Putnam EC's Bill Rieman nominated Kahle.

  • The $500 honorable mention prize went to Rich Gustin of Statesville, North Carolina. Gustin, a terminal cancer patient, regularly performs comedy routines for medical staff and fellow patients. He was nominated by his wife, Judy Gustin, at EnergyUnited, also in Statesville.

“Touchstone Energy Cooperatives is honored to recognize these local heroes on a national level and to support the 730 local electric cooperatives in one of their core values, Commitment to Community,” said Lynn Moore, executive director. “We are so proud of the winners who inspire us all to demonstrate these values—every day.”

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