Since interviews were conducted (April 13 and 14) and this article was written (April 15), new guidance from local health authorities has been published that means some of the household activities below will change and no longer be possible. L’Arche GWDC follows all local and national healthcare guidelines. Our joys remain even as challenges grow.
If you visited a L’Arche GWDC house around noon on a typical weekday most core members would be at work or day programs. Now with social distancing orders in place, day programs and work places have closed. “Core members are home all day,” explains Alice Felker, a live-in assistant at Highland House in Arlington. And with that comes both joys and challenges. “It’s been really fun to have them home during that time, and see what they like to do during the day.”
Laura Heiman, Home Life Leader of Ontario House in DC, says household members are definitely starting to miss getting out and about to visit other places and people. “It’s really hard to say sorry no we can’t go to the stores.” Charles Clark, a core family member in Arlington, says he misses everyone at his work. But at the same time Laura explains that: “It has been a lot of good together time. Because we have a lot more down time, especially not needing to coordinate going to day programs during the day.”
Members of the homes are getting to know each other in new ways as they bring activities from day programs into their homes. Alice is able to enjoy doing puzzles with Hazel and learn about Eric’s love of word searches (both are core family members in Highland House). Before social distancing these activities mostly happened at day programs. Laura has loved the different hobbies and energy in the homes, from painting, to reading, to dance parties, each room of the Ontario House often has something different going on. Core members mentioned reading, going on (socially distant) walks, and tie dye as other activities they’ve been enjoying.
Becoming a Day Program
With the daily cheer this new time has brought, it’s still a challenge – the model of L’Arche GWDC did not include regular weekday day programming before this. “It’s a big transition for core family members. Day programs have every minute of every day planned for core members and their purpose is to plan a very meaningful day,” explains Alice. It’s “a big undertaking” to transition from being a residential service provider to also being a day program, she said. “I think we’re rising to the challenges but there’s a learning curve.”
Providing day time support means needing more assistants present for more hours of the day. On top of shifting routines, assistants and core members are working together to ensure no germs are being spread. Along with proper hand washing and wearing masks as necessary, they sanitize all commons spaces even more than usual and sanitize all groceries and packages coming in the door, a “time consuming” task, says Alice.
The pandemic raises unique challenges for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities including worries about lack of access to necessary medical treatment and equipment, a shortage of direct service providers (DSPs), and increased isolation from the larger community. Some people with disabilities also have underlying health issues that make them especially vulnerable to the virus. It’s more important now than ever for people with disabilities to have the support systems they need, including DSPs such as the assistants at L’Arche. Unfortunately, in many disability communities outside of L’Arche, DSPs are not being named as essential workers and/or aren’t getting the personal protective equipment and other supplies they need to protect the people they serve and themselves.
L’Arche GWDC assistants and service team, along with the rest of the community, have responded quickly and creatively to the new reality of life during a pandemic.
“I’ve been really grateful for the creative ways everybody has been entering into this time,” said Laura. From the service team and how they are scheduling and shifting routines, to the core members and other community members and how they spend time together.
One example of creativity is how at Highland house they held a Fake Halloween, where they all dug into their costume supply, dressed up, and “trick or treated” at one of the guest bedrooms. Other houses are coming up with new games, creating art, attending church online, and reconnecting with old friends. The houses have welcomed letters, calls, and gifts of crafts and activities from friends. “It has been really nice reflecting on how it is to live in a community at this time,” Laura said.
Meanwhile, some of the programs where L’Arche core members used to spend their days are working hard to maintain a connection. Iona Senior Services held virtual tours of the Spy Museum and sends along weekly frozen meals through the Department on Aging and Art Enables has reached out to core members for connection and art activities.
“I think overall we’re doing a really great job of finding creative ways to stay busy and also stay safe and we’ve been really grateful at Highland to get so much from friends,” says Alice. “We’re definitely feeling the love from our supporters and everyone is really appreciative of that.”
Read more about core member lives during this time here.
If you would like to support L’Arche GWDC during this time you can give here.
Blog by Mary Ellen Dingley, Communications and Outreach Coordinator