Friday, March 8, 2013

No Tourist Traps, Please

Brad’s story is one of many ways Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) and its staff are centering its thinking and services around what is important to the people we serve.  When an organization offers a “service life,” it focuses on “client’s needs” according to the organizational system and staff that in some ways limits those served, not to mention out of the box thinking.  When an organization facilitates a “community life,” it is being a person-centered organization.  The efforts and lessons learned by Brad’s Cottage staff demonstrates the value of thinking outside the bureaucratic box, and supports problem-solving centered around what is important to someone, not just what is important for someone.

Never underestimate the power of “word of mouth.”  Our efforts towards a more person-centered approach was broadcast across Campus so that everyone understands this goal; even the residents got wind of it and jumped at the chance in letting staff know what’s important to them! Awesome!  Similar stories not quite as elaborate as that of Brad’s, but just as powerful and meaningful, began to surface as staff began supporting WFC individuals with the new person-centered tools.  Whether it was simply asking someone what s/he wanted, rather than assuming it because it had “always been that way,” to simply inviting a new opportunity to someone to mix things up, staff began shifting their way out of the “service run.” In other cases, those person-centered moments just presented themselves, as if the stars and moons, or whatever lined up in the process.  The bottom line is we all like to make our own choices, and have our own personal preferences about things.  Those with developmental disabilities are no different.

So, I wonder:  when you go on vacation, do you plan a jam-pack itinerary, or do you find a spot to plant yourself to chill, doing whatever, whenever it moves you?

Each year, our recreation department (REC) schedules mini-vacations that consist of an overnight trip somewhere outside of Owensboro. The vacations vary, designed with the individuals and their interests in mind.  Skylar is a young man who previously has gone on vacations but demonstrated an unsettled restlessness and upset when on them.  As a result, recreational staff had not scheduled Skylar for a vacation for the past two years, mainly because he just simply did not seem to enjoy them. 

This past spring when vacations were being planned, Beth, a direct support professional (DSP) in Skylar’s cottage, noticed he wasn’t scheduled to go, and asked WFC’s recreational director about it.  Not wanting Skylar to be left out, Beth suggested that a trip to Audubon Cabins in Henderson, KY might be more enjoyable for Skylar who is visually-impaired, noting he doesn’t like being around a lot of environmental commotion which can leave him feeling anxious.  She additionally volunteered to go with him since she emotionally understands him, and seems to have the best rapport with Skylar of all the staff.  Vacation planners in hindsight realized they never considered staff matching, a person-centered tool, when scheduling DSP support for vacations.  Staff matching for optimal rapport has been constant conversation WFC has had in the person-centered culture shift.

With Beth’s advocacy, and REC staff's open-mindedness to her insights, they together adopted the “can-do” attitude that person-centeredness challenges our staff to have, and made Skylar’s vacation happen.  And how did he enjoy it?  He joined others who are the low-key “chill-out” vacationers that care little for the hubbub of sightseeing and tourist traps.  The group enjoyed “home-cooked” meals, and with Skylar’s love of eating, he enjoyed the smells and comforts of “at-home” dining.  The 3-bedroom cabin’s accommodations allowed open space for Skylar to move about, especially if he felt restless at night, something a small hotel room doesn’t offer.  And most importantly, Skylar enjoyed chill-laxing on the cabin’s deck listening to the sounds of nature.
Even Skylar’s physical therapist (PT) noticed an improvement in his demeanor during his sessions after vacation.  She reported his improved light-hearted moods in which he laughed and was “sing-songy” with her.  Skylar even responded to her when asked about his good mood, “I’m singing!” The physical therapist noted she’d never seen him be in such good spirits.

Isn’t that what a good vacation is suppose to do for one’s body, mind and spirit?

In the Next Blog Entry: Roller Coaster Mama - ". . . With Becky in the driver’s seat, hands on the steering wheel and a foot on the gas pedal, Jennifer lightly put her foot on Becky’s to help control the speed.  Becky chastised her, 'Get your foot off of me, Fitch!'"

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