Saturday, November 19, 2011

Come Ye Thankful People, Come

Annette, Scott, Natalie, Rebekah, Kelly, Sterling, Anita & Elizabeth at Thanksgiving Dinner
And they did!

Those that didn't missed an awesome feast last Thursday, as we held our annual Thanksgiving community dinner at the Ranch and made it the first of what I hope is an annual appreciation dinner for our staff.

Mike & Kara fill relish cups as Gig looks on
 Miss Gigi in the kitchen was helped throughout the day by various members of her family, not to mention the Foodies group.  By the time dinner was ready to be served, the party had already begun in the kitchen!

Jason, Robin, Ashley, Gig, CJ, and Jeff show how much fun you can have in a hairnet!
After dinner we presented thank you letters to staff members in attendance.  Ranchers roared in appreciation.  Where else can you feel like you just won Homecoming King or Queen!?
CJ just passed her two-year anniversary working at the Ranch
Thanks to all who made it happen--Miss Gigi, the Foodies (Kara, Jason, Valerie, and Mike) ably assisted by Jeff and Kelly (Gigi's son and daughter), Robin, Ashley from Michigan, and CJ.  We all enjoyed the dinner a lot, the fellowship even more, and did it all over the next day for lunch!

Our warmest wishes for a Thanksgiving filled with love for each and every one of our readers, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Retiring Mom

I am retiring effective December 31st of this year from all my official roles and jobs held over the years at Down Home Ranch.

And they have been many and varied, from donkey trainer to program director (they have more in common than you would think, as it turns out.)

One role I won't give up, of course, is being Kelly's mom, except that looking back I realize how much I have had to step back and let Kelly and others assume the reins of her life.

It has been amazing to watch Kelly mature and grow through the years, from a teenager who hid behind me when confronted with an introduction to a supremely confident young lady who strides toward a stranger with her hand out and a smile on her face.  I feel sure this would not have happened had Kelly continued living at home instead of moving to Martha House in 2006.

Naomi and I were talking yesterday about this very matter.  Naomi also has a child with Downs, a 16-year old boy, and she commented, "I couldn't believe when I first came to work here how high-functioning all the Ranchers were."

She went on to say that other parents have told her much of this "high-functioning" wasn't necessarily there when their Ranchers first came, and that recently, she had an epiphany.

Her boy loves chocolate milk, and was always after her to mix it up for him.  One day the lightbulb came on and she said, "Let me show you how to do it."  To her surprise he mastered the process then and there.  (This works better with chocolate milk than folding one's laundry, I find.)

It's so hard for Mom not to extend the caregiving way beyond points that are necessary and appropriate.  I used to despair over Kelly's refusal to wash her own hair.

She hated the feel of the slippery shampoo and just would not do it.  I even did the "hand-on-hand" thing and poured the shampoo into her hand, plopped her hand on her head and rubbed it in.  Result: one very clean spot and strands of lank, greasy hair.

When Kelly was about 16, we left her with friends while we went to Boston.  When we returned, Gay greeted me with the news that Kelly could now wash her own hair and in fact had done so, with somewhat OK results, four times in my absence.

I guess the time was right, the student was ready, and the teacher appeared.  Some things remain a mystery.

But now, after five years, Kelly knows so much, and can do so many things-- including things beyond me, like hooking up electronics, and all of them she either taught herself or was coached by others. 

And what will I do?  Well, I'll write that book I've been threatening to write for the past four years about how Down Home Ranch came to be.  I'll keep writing this blog and helping with other writing projects. 

I'll dedicate a fair amount of time to helping generate support for scientific research into Down syndrome, and the quest for effective therapies.

And other things you'll hear about along the way.  It's been a wild ride, and one I hope to continue to share with you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A visit from the Commish

Jerry, Commissioner Traylor, and Kelly
Commissioner Chris Traylor, head of the Department of Aging and Disability Services, which provides licensure and oversight of Down Home Ranch, visited today.  We were honored and proud to show "the Commish" around, and have him meet our high-spirited band of Ranchers, all of whom were busy at their jobs gardening, cooking, cleaning, and tending the animals.

When we first started Down Home Ranch, we were determined never to accept any public money.  We wanted desperately to remain independent, free from needless restraints and cumbersome bureaucratic entanglements.

But...once we began the residential program, we hit a wall.  We just could not raise enough money to pay for the cost of caring for people with major intellectual disabilities, and our families could not afford to pay the amounts needed to support their Rancher throughout their entire lives.

On more than one occasion, we were contacted by other private pay facilities, who were having to discharge a resident (who in one case had lived there for over 20 years) because their trust funds had given out, or their dads had retired.  How much of a heartbreak would that be!?

Jer and I were comfortably middle-class when we decided to sail into the unknown waters of building a ranch for people with disabilities, but we didn't know any people of great wealth.  We built the Ranch over a long period of time, paying as we went.

Rebekah and Brian tend plants in front of the Pavilion
But maintaining a residential program is an all-or-nothing deal.  When you're building a barn, you can build part of it and then take a break while you gather the resources to finish it.  That doesn't work so well with people, and although we as a family had gone through very precarious times in building the Ranch, there was no way we'd put our Ranchers through anything like that.  We needed a stable source of funding.

One thing led to another, and we decided it would be a good idea for the Ranch, and a tremendous help for our struggling families, to seek certification as providers for some of the programs funded through Medicaid for people with intellectual disabilities.

I was the program director in those days, and had to wend my way through the truly daunting obstacles of qualifying for that certification.  One of my tasks was to write policies and procedures based on innumerable rules, statues, regulations, and "tags" that spell out exactly and precisely how and why to do everything under the sun related to caring for a person with a disability.

To my surprise, I found no egregious or unreasonable dictates therein.  "It's all there, every bit of it, for very good reasons," I told Jerry.

At first there was a bit of resistance on the part of advocates and regulators.  They were suspicious of why we would decide to plop ourselves out in the middle of nowhere.  The trend was totally the other way--apartments and single homes for one or two folks at most.  Why did we want to be in the country, all living together?

Well, suffice it to say that it comes down to different strokes for different folks.  Some people like the country, the animals, the friends nearby.  We strove for that old-fashioned neighborhood, where a helping hand is never far away, and by gum, we think we've got it!

We promised to work hard to be the best providers--privately or publically funded--in the state of Texas, and  DADS has come to appreciate that we mean to do exactly that, providing technical help and support along the way.

Did becoming dependent on public support solve all of our financial problems?  Absolutely not.  At most it's a good base from which to start.  The money we receive from the state covers the basics--housing, utilities, food, supervision.  But income from charitable donations and enterprises make the real difference in the quality of life for our Ranchers--travel, lots of off-Ranch activities, superior day program and excellent staff.  Together we can offer terrific opportunities for our residents, and they don't have to come from wealthy families to live here.

When the Commissioner showed up today, we were eager to show him the Ranch and our community up close and personal.  He was warmly greeted by confident, cheerful staff and Ranchers, and we hope he agrees that our partnership with DADS has paid off well all around.

And we thank him for his work, and his caring, for those we all serve.