The Realities of Getting things Done

by Elizabeth Wolleben

As assistants, we are legally bound to our housemates with disabilities to “get things done.”  We do things for them, including support them in physical needs of dressing and bathing if needed.  We attempt to provide a variety of healthy lifestyle options including the food that we eat and the activities that we do.

We are also legally bound to the goals that they set for themselves.  It is our job, according to our state governments, to follow the ISP (Individualized Support Plan) set forth by the core member and the team of people who support them.  That team includes L’Arche, their family, work place supervisors, a case manager or support coordinator and any number of medical support professionals.

In Virginia, we are lucky to be in a system that believes that the ISP should be based on what is called “person-centered” goal setting:  The person who is being supported sets the goals.  This is a novel idea in some circles.  In Highland house, we have been doing person-centered goal setting since our formation in 2006 through the process of our Map meeting (mapping out the future).

As assistants we are legally bound to this process.  As friends, we are also obligated to follow through with supporting the goals of our housemates.

Hazel has had riding a double-decker bus on her map for the past three years.  This goal was worked on and we together learned how to get up and down stairs.  Her story of taking the 12 steps in our own home was moving to many of us.  This year, the goal of going on the double-decker bus was on her ISP for the first time.  We were legally bound to this goal, and for the first time, it was reasonably achievable.

Sometimes, a little bit of push is all we need to get things done.  But the biggest push for me to walk with Hazel to Union Station was the motivation we got from the community at large.  So many people have been coming up to Hazel and asking, “Have you ridden the bus yet?  Are you going to ride the bus?”  Thanks to all of your support, I was pushed to take that walk to Union Station, and support Hazel onto the top level of the bus.

Again an act so meaningful to many of us, some of you might be asking, “Was she overcome with emotion at the achievement?”  Something that seems so meaningful and moving to some is just seen as another day to Hazel.  The act of going up stairs is nothing to her.  The tour of DC was insignificant.   When I explained that Barack Obama lives at the White House, Hazel looked at me as if I was lying to her.  None of the memorials to presidents or wars meant anything to her.  Why would they?  She can’t interact with the people of the past.

The skateboarders?  They were something else.  Imagine Hazel cheering them on:   “Hoo!  Yeh, boy yeh!” Hazel’s favorite part of the ride was the little boy chasing a duck on the side of the Tidal Basin.

I found myself trying to look past the history and social impact of the town we were touring and see what Hazel was seeing.  I got to see the world from Hazel’s eyes when I stopped pointing out the “important” things.  Often I find that when we as housemates complete these huge goals together, goals that we have been talking about for years, the completion is less important than the experience of meeting each other from a new perspective.