Moving Towards Independence

When I think back over my childhood, its ups and even its downs, I am struck by how much I took for granted. I took for granted that I had people who loved me and wanted me to succeed. I took for granted that I would one day have the ability and wherewithal to go out into the world as an independent adult and blaze my own trail. However, these things that you and I so often see as inevitable and ours to claim are not always so easy to achieve for our students. In fact, what you and I take for granted on a daily basis can often represent a seemingly out of reach goal for individuals with emotional and developmental disabilities. However, with the right support, individuals with disabilities can achieve the same goals as you and I. In fact, when they have a team of cheerleaders, it is amazing what can be achieved.

As an educator, I would like to share with you the story of an individual who has achieved this ultimate goal.  This story features a young man by the name of Jeremy, who strove for and worked tirelessly for a sense of freedom and independence for himself.  Jeremy overcame adversity and tragic events that had occurred throughout his life in order to fulfill his dream. He gives new meaning to the phrase; “don’t judge a book by its cover” and reminds us that we need to look beyond the initial surface.   Many employees had their initial thoughts about Jeremy, but few knew his horrible past. Some would perceive him as a rather difficult individual to work with on a daily basis and that it would be hard to mold him into the young man he needs to be in order to exit Grafton and be on his own. With the numerous supports throughout his journey at Grafton; this all became a reality for him in February 2017.

From the first day Jeremy entered our care in December 2014 at the age of 19, he spoke of wanting to be independent and live on his own. He had a long road ahead of him, and along that road, were many obstacles. He knew what he needed to do, but getting him there was the challenge. Jeremy was your typical teenager who knew it all, and couldn’t be asked to do anything without a difficult and challenging attitude. At first, he wanted nothing to do with school or participating in any activities for that matter. It took a classroom change and a bit of tough love, lots of structure, and consistency and small successes along the way in order for him to become the young man he is now. He started out slowly by going out into the community and participating in jobs such as setting tables, vacuuming, cleaning, folding pizza boxes, and serving food and drinks at a local soup kitchen. These jobs were not what he wanted, but he did them and did them very well. Jeremy was then given an opportunity to interview with a local produce company. It was important to see if he would be compatible with the other employees and if he could work in a high paced setting. This job included unloading trucks, stocking items, pulling customer orders for delivery, and rotating new and old inventory. He did this well enough that after less than a month, he was doing it independently and without a Grafton staff.  This was a huge milestone for both Jeremy and his team.

Jeremy later had the opportunity from another organization, while still in Grafton’s care, to interview for a new job. Before we knew about this potential interview/job, his team was working with him on developing a resume, filling out applications, managing his money, and creating a grocery list and shopping for those items on a weekly basis. When the time came to interview with a local restaurant as a dish washer, Jeremy was completely ready and knew what to present and expect in return from the employer. He eventually was offered the position and began working there part-time, while still enrolled at Grafton. With his continuation of progress and maintenance of mastered job skills, the team was pleased to report this to his local agency. This individual’s treatment team, local agency, as well as other vocational training agencies interested in his success then came together on several occasions to discuss his discharge from Grafton. During the last few months of this individual’s time with us, everyone on board extended their support to make sure he was doing what was expected of him vocationally, academically, and most importantly, that he was functioning independently.

Jeremy eventually was discharged from Grafton in February 2017. He is living in his own apartment independently, managing his funds, and utilizing public transportation to get to work. He still has the necessary supports to assist him for awhile, but he ultimately got what he set forth to do when he first came to Grafton. What you and I take for granted each day now became this individual’s reality.