By Regan McGowan, Program Manager

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend ARRM’s Annual Conference. In one of the sessions, I listened to a speaker talk about the idea of person-centered thinking. This is a well-known concept at Hammer, but it really hit home with me this particular day. The speaker shared a poem written by Elaine Popovich, a woman living with a disability. Her poem eloquently shares her perspective on the differences between her life and the lives of her staff.

You And I

I am a resident. You reside.
I am admitted. You move in.
I am aggressive. You are assertive.
I have behavior problems. You are rude.
I am non-compliant. You don’t like being told what to do.

When I ask you out for dinner, it’s an outing. When you ask someone out, it’s a date. 

I don’t know how many people have read the progress notes people write about me. I don’t even know what is in there. You didn’t speak to your best friend for a month after they read your journal.

I make mistakes during my check-writing program. Someday I might get a bank account. You forgot to record some withdrawals from your account. The bank called to remind you.

I wanted to talk with the nice looking person behind us at the grocery store. I was told that it was inappropriate to talk to strangers. You met your spouse in the produce department. They couldn’t find the bean sprouts.

I celebrated my birthday yesterday with five other residents and two staff members. I hope my family sends a card. Your family threw you a surprise party. Your brother couldn’t make it from out of state. It sounded wonderful.

My case manager sends a report every month to my guardian. It says everything I did wrong and some things I did right. You are still mad at your sister for calling your mom after you got that speeding ticket.

I am on a special diet because I am five pounds over my ideal body weight. Your doctor gave up telling you. I am learning household skills. You hate housework. I am learning leisure skills. Your shirt says you are a “couch potato.”

After I do my budget program tonight, I might get to go to McDonald’s if I have enough money. You were glad the new French restaurant took your charge card.

My Case Manager, Psychologist, R.N., Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Nutritionist and house staff set goals for me for the next year. You haven’t decided what you want out of life.

Someday I will be discharged – maybe. You will move onward and upward!

I think Elaine’s poem nails the importance of person-centered thinking on the head. As I think about my life and putting person-centered thinking into action, I reflect on my time with a boy named Emerson. This past January, I was able to visit the Mephibosheth Special Needs Home just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For 10 days, I was able to love and support kids who have varying physical and/or developmental disabilities. During this time I became pals with Emerson. Even though he spoke very little, he was always smiling and full of joy. He also carried around a rag wherever he went as he tended to drool quite a bit due to protruding teeth.

EmersonTo celebrate my team’s last night at the “M House,” we had a nighttime dance party complete with glow sticks. All the children were laughing and screaming, except Emerson who was sitting out on the side. One by one, different team members went over to try and get him out on the dancefloor. Every time he would simply shake his head no. After a few more songs, I walked over to Emerson and looked him in the eyes. We didn’t speak the same language, and quite frankly, I don’t even know if he knew my name. But in that moment, I grabbed his little hand with the drool rag, took it in my hand, put it on the chair and shrugged my shoulders with a smile. With both of his hands free, I gestured for him to take mine. He eagerly grabbed my hands and his grin grew until he was beaming. Needless to say, Emerson and I hit the dance floor for the rest of the party!

Elaine’s poem and Emerson’s smile remain close in my heart and mind as I work with the incredible men and women at Hammer. All Emerson wanted to do was dance like everyone else. The rag he carried his entire life inadvertently defined a part of who he was. By simply helping him put it aside, I could see a noticeable, positive difference in Emerson. What would happen if we really put person-centered thinking into motion, left the “rags” and other labels aside, and were able to dance the night away? It’s not always easy, but it is something I try to do every day with the fantastic men and women we serve who just happen to live with a disability.