From Getting to Giving

by Jennifer Lengyel

When we first met Barbara, she was being kicked out of Independent Living Services for being too defiant. She and her Father came and sat in my office and he talked about all of Barbara’s issues, such as changing in front of open windows, taking off without letting anyone know where she was going, dressing inappropriately for weather and occasion, refusing to clean or sometimes even change her clothes. I sat back in my chair and thought, wow, she is going to be easy to support and probably a lot of fun. After her taking off for about the 100th time, usually to buy ice cream, we did have some serious concerns about Barbara’s safety. I would go look for her and find her at 10 pm, walking down the street in shorts and a tee shirt, eating ice cream in December.

We spent a lot of time with Barbara in the first few years trying to understand why when she could do whatever she wanted when she wanted, she needed to be sneaky and worry us all. Slow learners that we were, we finally figured out she liked all the attention when we would find her. Barbara, while extremely independent, needed a lot of attention. She would take it positive or negative. As we started to gear her support around attention, she began to blossom.

About a year ago, one of Barbara’s old teammates from Special Olympics developed dementia. Barbara and this woman had not been great friends as they had always competed for the hot guys. However, Barbara found out about this woman’s health and asked if she could come over and start spending time with her. As we support the woman, we asked her and she agreed. Barbara started going over every day and hanging out, talking and reading to the woman and then asked if she could assist the staff in any way. As the woman’s health declined more, the staff really needed a second pair of hands and Barbara was more than willing to help.

After about a month of this, we asked Barbara if she would be willing to make this a job and become an IHSS provider. The regional center liked the idea as she would be a second staff on to assist another staff. Barbara has been doing this job for 8 months now and is more responsible and hard working than most of the other staff that work there. She genuinely is concerned for this woman’s health and well being and does the extra stuff that we can forget when we are busy providing care: painting toe nails, styling hair, reading to her or listening to music with her.

Due to her working, Barbara finally saved up enough money to plan a vacation. She decided to go to Universal Studios and Hollywood. She asked her old roommate to go with her and they planned the trip together. Once the date was set, Barbara came to us and asked, what will happen to the woman I support while I am gone? Who will do all the things I do? It was so amazing to hear Barbara be so genuinely concerned even when she was about to do something she has always wanted to do. After much reassuring, that we would make sure the woman was OK while she was gone, Barbara did go on her vacation and had the time of her life. The picture above is of Barbara on her vacation in Hollywood. This is the first vacation she has been able to plan for herself and do exactly what she wanted to do. She was so happy.

Barbara still needs her attention sometimes and reminds us if we forget. However, she is just as happy focusing on another person and giving back all and more of the attention she has received.



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