When I was in college I had this friend named Jill. Jill was everything I ever wanted to be. She was beautiful, artistic, intelligent, and oh so deep. She loved Tori Amos and Tool and could find meaning in lyrics that made no sense to me. The other thing about Jill was that she had a huge heart.
Jill studied recreation in college, specifically therapeutic recreation. She chose to work with people that had developmental disabilities. She worked at a group home for developmentally disabled adults where she helped them with their daily activities. She took them shopping, helped them cook dinner, helped them brush their teeth, and all of those things that people do during normal daily life.
When I was so fed up with my job at the local Subway that I was finally ready to quit, Jill convinced me to apply for a job at the group home she worked at. At first I wasn’t too sure about it, but the hours at Subway were killing me and making it hard for me to stay awake during class so I thought I would give it a chance.
My first day of work was a bit of a shock to me. Even though I knew what I was getting into, I wasn’t fully prepared for some of the things I would see in that home. It was sad to see adults that could not do things for themselves that I totally took for granted. It was hard to eat at mealtimes while watching other people slobber and smash their food up and even sometimes chew up their food only to remove it from their mouths seconds later. It was definitely a learning experience for me. I got used to it over time and now that I think about it, it probably was the best preparation for parenthood I could have ever had.
It didn’t take me very long at all to form relationships with the women and men in the group home. I learned to love all of them in their own way. Some days that I spent there were extremely frustrating and other days were just pure fun. I learned to crochet because of one of my friends there. I learned to befriend those that were different than me. I learned about acceptance and tolerance. I learned patience. I learned a new meaning for the word family. I learned that we’re really not all that different.
There was one lady in particular in that home that I befriended. She had Down Syndrome and a massive temper but I loved her like a sister. When I was in a bad mood, she could always cheer me up. She liked to play jokes on you and laugh. She loved to hide things and then pretend she didn’t know where they were. She loved to just hang out and laugh and had the most contagious smile I’ve ever seen. She loved to tease and sit in people’s laps just to get a reaction. One of my favorite pictures is of her sitting in my lap. We were both laughing and smiling.
After college I moved to KC and had to leave that job. I worked in other group homes here for a couple of years before I left that profession. Somehow I thought that paying my rent was more important than feeding my heart. To this day, I still think of the men and women that lived in the homes that I worked in. Some of them have now passed away. Some of them are still there, living life and getting by. Most I have lost all contact with.
Sometimes I wonder if I made as big of a difference in their lives as they did in mine.