Monday, July 6, 2009

Empowerment to the People

This past weekend I thought a few times about one of my clients who was facing a serious challenge yesterday. Anthony, a client I work close with has a developmental disability. He also has a nephew, Jim, who he’s very close to. Jim suffers from a severe genetic disease and stays in supportive living in a different town. From what Anthony has shared with me he and Jim’s brother are the two most present adults in Jim’s life and Anthony calls Jim regularly. Maybe it’s because Anthony didn’t have a child of his own that he feels fatherly towards Jim. About four years ago Jim moved away to a different town and since then Anthony has seen him sporadically. Since he can’t drive he relied on friends to take him to visit Jim. The infrequency of his visits was a constant source of pain for Anthony. He shared with me that Jim didn’t have a lot of support outside of him and Jim’s brother and that he missed him a lot since he moved away.

One of Anthony and my goals was to empower Anthony to be able to make the trip to see Jim independently. Anthony’s friends drove him to see his nephew so the only time he took public transportation was with another case manager went with him about a year back. Since no direct route existed the trip included changing three buses, hopping on a train, then getting a taxi. Not to mention keeping an eye on the clock to know when to leave.

Last Wednesday Anthony told me he wanted to see Jim on his own. I asked him if he was sure he was ready to do it and Anthony said that he needed to and essentially said it was time. So we went over the directions and he kept copies of the train schedules, map, and directions. We went over the cost of the trip and Anthony said he’ll take extra money with him. I encouraged him to ask for directions or help if he got lost and he wrote down a relative’s number just in case.

Then of course over the weekend I thought about him. I knew money-wise he’d be OK if he’d be able to hold on to his money. The trip would be something he had never done before on his own and I was mostly nervous he’d get lost, be too shy to ask for directions, and get frustrated.

Just as I got off the bus to work I saw him walking towards my direction on the street. He nodded at me and his posture seemed relaxed. I asked him how the trip went and he shrugged his shoulders. “You won’t believe what happened,” Anthony said to me in an inscrutable tone. “I took the first bus and then I got lost! So I asked someone how to get to the train station and he showed me.” I quickly understood that Anthony walked from the bus station to the train station instead of taking one of the four buses that were nearby. This was quite far – more than two miles. Unfortunately he missed the first train so he had to wait 2 hours for the next one. “I didn’t know if I wanted to stay and wait,” Anthony said and added the rush of the “mobs of people” at the station when the later train came upset him. But he got on the train. He quickly realized it was going in the wrong direction and asked for help and got on the right train. At the train stop at the second town the security guard let him use his cellphone to call a taxi. So in the end he made it four hours after the time he had planned to make it, but he did, and I couldn’t congratulate him enough. I was so excited for him and very proud. It knew it meant a lot for him to have done that on his own and it was great to see him at ease having seen his nephew. I was so happy I practically skipped my way to work. And I’m no skipper.

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