Monday, January 21st was Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. I had the day off work, so I took the opportunity to go with another Part-time PACE Staff member to visit a former consumer who now lives out of our service area, who we’ll call Kevin, and who happens to be a friend of my co-worker.
Kevin’s life story fascinates me. He was born with cerebral palsy prior to passage of the ADA. His public education was basically an exercise in warehousing by the small local school district. At age seven, his parents divorced; and he was taken in by his parental grandparents. This caused deep resentment by the grandparents toward Kevin’s mother. They loved and cared for him as responsibly as they knew how. As often happens in loving families, the caregivers feared allowing their youngster to grow and become independent from them. The grandparents wanted Kevin to remain their little boy. But Kevin was becoming a man. He was very conflicted, like all people are as they grow older; he wanted to be a man, but wasn’t sure he had the skills to make his own decisions, and he didn’t want to hurt his grandparent’s feelings. When he came to PACE he was taught communication and advocacy skills, and began to let his grandparents know, that he loved them, but at the same time wanted more independence. Too, his grandparents began to face the fact that they were becoming less and less able to physically provide all the care Kevin needed. So they moved into a retirement facility and Kevin moved into a nearby group home.
I had visited Kevin 13 months earlier. What was clear at this visit is that Kevin is doing exceptionally well; is extremely happy; and is becoming his own man in his own right. The group home is lovely and well staffed. Kevin, to his grandparent’s chagrin, has his own bank account, debit card, and is managing his funds well. He has a new, reciprocally loving relationship with his mother; who is taking more responsibility for her son’s wellbeing. He is making life decisions for himself, such as a living will, arranging his own social events, and things he just wasn’t allowed to do before he became his own advocate.
Both myself, and the other staff member who was with me on this pleasant outing, agree – thinking of Kevin is an uplifting and rewarding affirmation of the power of one finding their own voice and using it to make their life better.
Earlier that day, I listened to President Obama’s second Inaugural Address and could apply his words to Kevin’s American experience of living with freedom and liberties that once were denied him. He is living his life in pursuit of happiness. And seeing that helps me live mine in the same way.