Reporting for my first day of work with Wendell Foster’s Campus for Developmental Disabilities (WFC), I felt the butterflies in my stomach. In the prior two weeks, I didn’t think much about WFC. People asked if I was excited, but I felt ambivalent, until a few days before starting. Then, the realization set in, “I start Monday;” and, so started the knots in my stomach.
Upon arrival, several new employees were already waiting in the lobby where I joined them; the wait felt like forever. Antsy, I got up and started perusing the display case in the front lobby which houses historical memorabilia of the Fosters and WFC. Seeing the organization’s history behind glass calmed my nerves. People continued to filter in, and you could hear a pin drop. None of us was saying a word to each other, and barely making eye contact. Crossed legs rocked intently; some were simply staring ahead, or fidgeting with their cell phones. Sensitive to people’s energy, I felt nervous energy, anxiety and fear. The room felt edgy. I needed to relax, and breathing helps – slow deep breaths in and slow exhales out. Again. Again. The butterflies settled down.
The morning involved the usual human resources stuff: documentation for the 1099, paperwork on direct deposits, benefits, policies and procedures, health screenings and vaccinations, etc. I was the only administrative employee in training. One co-worker was a nurse and the others were Direct Support Providers (DSPs). Introductions were made and we spoke for the first time outside of paperwork questions. We were still hesitant with uncertainty.
We watched a video about Willowbrook State School, a 4000 bed facility housing 6000 children and adults with developmental disabilities. Geraldo Rivera’s investigation revealed horrifying conditions of this state-run facility which operated from 1956 until its closure in 1972, and my heart ached. Tears welled up and flowed freely from my eyes. C’mon Ferbster, I chided, toughen up and handle this! In hindsight, I realized I was telling myself, you can’t feel any emotion.
Next, my supervisor talked about the WFC mission, vision and guiding principles. Her presentation may as well have been the kindling to fuel the low-flamed excitement I’d been feeling. My passion reignited, and I felt exhilaration again. Then we watched another video about a student with autism realize his dream of playing basketball with his team, making an incredible six three-point shots! I was once again moved. “Really, Carolyn? Again with the tears?” I chastised myself. And then it struck me: “I’m afraid I’ll be perceived as being unable to emotionally handle this job!” I learned later there are a lot of tears around WFC: tears of joy; tears of concern; tears of frustration; tears of heartache; tears shared with the residents. How can someone work here without having heart? I don’t know how a tough heart could escape softening upon hearing the stories of these individuals, the obstacles and triumphs they’ve experienced in their journey.
By the end of our training week, many of us were bravely admitting we were scared about working with this group of individuals. Yes, that’s right, bravely; because it takes a great deal of courage to admit fear. Isn’t that an oxymoron?! Perhaps our fears came from feeling personal inadequacy, or we’d be forced to look at some of our own baggage when it comes to our thoughts and past treatment towards those we’ve met and known with disabilities. Maybe we subconsciously hold fear because something within us knew we would be forever changed upon meeting and working with the residents of WFC. Or maybe, we doubted ourselves as having anything of value to contribute here.
My co-trainees and I, any of us, have something to contribute to WFC, though in the big scheme of things, I believe we are the benefactors with much to gain from being here. We become involved in the lives of these individuals, and maybe our fear is about our getting too close, too attached, too emotionally connected in heart. For me personally, I’m glad I moved through the fear and connected. The payoff is immeasurable.
In the Next Blog Entry: The Algebraic Formula for Fear - “I was purposely not looking up at any WFC community members as they moved through the area . . . . . “
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