After a divorce and discontinuing my work of many years in the family restaurant business, I was sorting out the next chapter of my life. I had sometimes visited my cousin at her job with a facility that provides services to Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) and was always touched that everyone there seemed so loving. My cousin suggested I consider working there and after giving it some thought, I accepted a job that involved taking these Individuals out into the community.
After working closely with these special people and learning firsthand about their unique needs, I made a decision – “I’m going to become a Host Home Provider (HHP) and change whatever I can for them.” Growing up with divorced parents had been tough; I didn’t have people to turn to and open up to. I didn’t want others to experience that feeling of being alone, so when I saw I could change that for another human being, I had to do it.
I welcomed a few Individuals into my home and found the work to be personally fulfilling and a great fit for me. But I was yet to learn its full potential. Then Ruth came into the picture.
A friend was providing emergency respite for Ruth and suggested I meet her. Her needs were not being fully met in her then-current residential situation. I was instantly drawn to her and wanted to help however I could. She’d had a rough life, needed help and some love. I couldn’t say no. And the timing was perfect. I’d always had two Individuals in my home, and one was in need of fulltime hospital care so would be leaving. Everything fell into place.
When Ruth first came into my home she would flinch if touched and turn away in fear. And although she had the ability, she didn’t communicate much. She’d faced a lot of hardship, been pushed aside, and verbally abused because she was different. I started working closely with her psychologist to understand her needs and began to see her change.
She quickly became a part of our family and as the years have gone by it has been wonderful to see her life change. She has been able to blossom, has become joyful, and able to express and receive love – she can’t get enough hugs and there are moments when she can’t be quiet! When she joined our household, life’s circumstances had separated her siblings, they had lost touch with each other, and she couldn’t tell us her relatives’ names. Now she can name her siblings, nieces, and nephews, and is close to and in touch with her family. She has one sibling left who sends her a message every day and visits her.
When my grandson was born, he became “Ruth’s baby.” She’d hold him in her wheelchair when we’d go out and was very protective and loving. We cared for him through kindergarten, and he and Ruth are very close, as is the case with all our family members and so many friends. A friend of my son’s will even come to visit and sing to her. In addition to being an integral part of our family and bringing us so much joy, she has become a treasured part of the community. Ruth’s own volunteer village has rallied around her, both to provide support and to draw inspiration from her beautiful, innocent spirit.
Ruth was also my path to become connected with Evergreen Service Providers. They were working to find just the right setting for her when I came to know of her. I am grateful for my association with this caring organization, in which we are all like family. Evergreen is hands on with everything, always there – day or night – to help or point me to the resources I need. Ruth was once hospitalized for five months and in hospice three times. Each time, the many people who loved her would get together and pray – and she made it through with the support of the loving arms of her village. After her illness, some of her needs changed. Barbara and the staff members at Evergreen were right there when she came home – ready to do whatever was needed.
Ruth will be 80 years old in a few months and has been with me for twelve years. In that time, her whole life changed – and so has mine. As an HHP, I’ve basically been a stay-at-home mom, caring for an adult whose needs are sometimes as great as those of a child. This work gives me opportunities each day to be the giver I am and a reason to look forward to waking up each day. It brings me great joy to be able to share, to be able to change somebody else’s life – which in turn changes mine.
Ruth has helped me grow as a person and open up more as she has opened up. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world – being an HHP is the greatest blessing ever. It has helped me reach beyond the person I was and truly brought me to me – it gave me my life.
So many people have been a part of helping Ruth to thrive. It’s been a willing village that has given her love and experiences that make her happy. In return we’ve all grown because of her, we’ve been showered with love, and experienced the joy of making a difference. Ruth is an ambassador for IDD Individuals, as are all of us whose lives she has touched.
We know that Ruth’s needs may be different than ours. She learns differently and communicates differently. Of course, we’re all different in some ways but, more than anything, we all want to love and be loved. We all need each other. And there is love all around. Ruth has opened our hearts and together, we have changed the village.*
[*This blog recounts the experiences of Evergreen Service Providers Host Home Provider, Teresa S., as conveyed to an interviewer.]