Hello. I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Alice Smith. I would like to talk to you about the many things in my life that have helped make me who I am and about some of the very special things that have recently occurred that have helped me to now live the life which I had dreamed of.
I am not a young woman. I was born in 1918 in Lewiston, Pennsylvania. I do not remember a lot about my childhood except that it was not very happy. I have had trouble with my eyes ever since I can remember and this had a lot to do with my unhappiness as I was often beaten by my mother for mistakes I would make because of not being able to see too well. I do not ever remember going to school. I tried to do my best with helping around the house but my mother still often beat me for not doing things the way she wanted. This went on for a long time until my father finally told my mother to leave our home.
After my mother left, my father married another woman, who I remember as being nice. I do not remember very much about her because my father took me to Polk Center to live soon after they were married. My father was a nice man and always treated me well, and I still do not know why he had me leave my home. I remember very well the day my father drove me to the Polk Center to live. I remember that I was not sad about having to live at Polk because I had such bad memories of living at home with my mother. I went to live at Polk in 1934, and stayed there until 1960.
I liked living at Polk. It was clean and the staff was friendly to me. I did a lot of different jobs at Polk. I helped wash and wax floors, put sheets and clothing away, and helped take care of the linen and clothing rooms. I also helped take care of some of the children who were sick. I never got paid for doing these things, but I liked the work. Sometimes, the parents of the children I was taking care of would give me a few dollars when they visited. I helped take care of these children in every way. I didn't have much else to do besides work.
In 1960 my dad took me out of Polk and drove me to the Hamburg Center to live. He said he moved me because he did not want me to get sick from working with sick children. I did not enjoy living at Hamburg at first because I missed Polk. At Hamburg I did a lot of the same jobs I did at Polk. I didn't get paid for doing these things, but the parents of two children I helped take care of sometimes gave me a few dollars when they visited. For many years at Hamburg I did not have time to do much else but work, but I do remember enjoying working on a loom making rugs and placemats.
In 1974, I was told I could no longer do the type of work I had been doing. At this time I began working full time in the workshop and getting paid. I also began taking trips into the community and learning new things. I was always treated well at Polk and Hamburg, but never made any real friends except for staff.
For as far back as I can remember I had wanted to live in the community, but there was not much talk of this happening. Then, in 1976, I got a chance to live in a town far from Hamburg. I tried living in three different houses but they were not what I expected. They were not very clean and I had nothing to do. I was very unhappy and returned to Hamburg in 1977. For about the next 10 years at Hamburg, I continued to work in the workshop and learn more about community living. We started taking more trips and learning different things, but I still wanted to live in the community.
In 1986, something very special happened for me. I always liked working with people and was getting tired of working in the workshop as I was 67 years old. I asked if I might be able to become a Foster Grandparent and found that I was able to do this. I was hired by the Berks County Office of Aging to provide companionship to individuals who lived at the Hamburg Center. I was very happy in this work, but still wanted to leave for the community as I felt I had lived in centers for too long.
In about 1991, at the age of 72, my life finally started moving in the direction I had hoped for thanks to Positive Approaches and Person-Centered Planning. At this time I became a Consumer Representative of The Planning Advisory Committee to the State Office of Mental Retardation and met many people from state and county organizations. I attended monthly planning meetings in Harrisburg and other places and took part in overnight retreats and conventions. There were many concerned people on the committee who listened to me as I told them how I wanted a community placement that could meet my needs. I met many advocates throughout the state such as the Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy group and became well known to them. I was speaking my mind and found that I was being listened to by people who could make a difference for me. Many people at Hamburg Center and throughout the state were trying to help me find a place in the community, but nothing was happening.
All of that changed in the Fall of 1995 when I found out that funding had become available for me to live in the community. Things started to happen pretty quickly. In the Fall and Winter of 1995, I attended Person-Centered Planning meetings with people from many agencies and was able to tell them exactly what I was looking for in the community. And they listened. I did not want to live in a group home but rather wanted my own place or to live with a family where I could have privacy and keep all of my belongings in my room. I wanted to remain in the Hamburg area so I could be around people who were important to me and I wanted to continue working in the Foster Grandparent program at the Hamburg Center. Through Person - Centered Planning, I was able to make my wants and needs known and I found that people listened to what I was saying.
In the Spring of 1996, things really started to happen for me and my community placement. I visited about five different families and spoke to them to see if I would like living with them before I met the right one for me. After I made my decision my placement was arranged by Tri County MH/MR and the provider agency, Supportive Concepts, Inc., Reading, and coordinated with Berks County MH/MR and Hamburg Center staff. Things happened so fast.
My life now is what I have always dreamed it would be. I live in a nice home with a woman who is concerned about me, and I am continuing to work as a Foster Grandparent with individuals who live at the Hamburg Center. I was just recognized for 10 years of service to the Foster Grandparent program. Living in the community gives me the kind of freedom and privacy which I have never known. I often go out to eat, go shopping, take trips to the hairdresser, visit people, play bingo at bingo halls, or just relax in the privacy of my own room. I make my own decisions and choices.
Many of the things that were once a special treat for me are now a regular part of my life. Things have happened so quickly for me in the past few years that it is still hard to believe. I am grateful to everyone who helped me, even though it did take a long time.
I know now that some things take time, but it is worth the fight to get what is important to you. I have some good memories from my life, but I have never been happier than I am now living in the community and I would never want to go back to the life I once lived. I hope everyone gets the chance at the happiness that I now have.
The Pennsylvania Journal on Positive Approaches is published by the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Retardation (OMR) Statewide Training Initiative through Temple University, Institute on Disabilities, University Affiliated Program and Contract Consultants, Inc., 105 Old York Road, New Cumberland, PA 17070. For subscription information, please contact Contract Consultants, Inc. at  774 - 5455. Copyright © 1998 OMR/CCI. All rights reserved.
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