A life hangs in the balance

PORTLAND — Ashland native Mieke Ryneal, 23, has one of her painting's hanging on the wall of the Smithsonian Museum and another at the John F. Kennedy Center. Two paintings in Washington monuments would be a coup for any artist, but is especially sweet for Ryneal, who at 23 has the IQ of a 6-year old. Now, not only her ability to paint but her chance to lead a life with dignity depends on the outcome of measures 66 and 67.

Measures 66 and 67 will protect $1 billion in funding for healthcare, education and public safety by raising the corporate minimum tax for the first time since 1931 from $10 to $150 and increasing the tax rate on household income above $250,000. Last month, state agencies released their planned cuts if the measures fail, and many programs for people with disabilities — including those that have helped Ryneal develop her talent, find employment and live a fuller life — could be cut or eliminated.

Charlene Ryneal, Mieke's mother, says her daughter was "wasting away" before they found Creative Supports in Medford, which paid for Mieke to attend Living Opportunities' Studio Sfumato through money it receives from the state. Mieke attends Studio Sfumato three afternoons a week and has become an accomplished painter. She also works at a used bookstore an afternoon each week, a job Creative Supports helped her to find.

"These services have made a huge difference in her life," says Dan Mish, creative director at the studio. "You wouldn't think she was the same person. Two years ago, she was very shy and introverted and would cry if she was put before a group of people and now her self-esteem and confidence is overwhelming."

If measures 66 and 67 fail, Creative Supports could be eliminated and Living Opportunities' Studio Sfumato, which gets half of its students from Creative Supports, could be forced to make major cuts. Charlene Rayneal says that she could not afford to send Mieke to Studio Sfumato on her own and worries about her daughters welfare without the service support they receive: "Mieke will be stuck at home again and waste away without these programs."

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