March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and Progress recognized the month with a "See Me for Me" campaign. We asked people we support to describe themselves in one word. See the results below!
Being inspired to stay healthy is a challenge for most of us. With busy schedules, work commitments, family responsibilities, stress, and a whole host of other distractions, health often falls to the bottom of the list. We all know that we’ll feel better by eating healthy and exercising, but making a plan and sticking to it is sometimes easier said than done.
Sheena and Shirley know this challenge first hand and serve as a testament to the incredible difference a few lifestyle changes can make. Sheena has been with Progress for many years, and due to a few staffing changes in the past year, Shirley became her new live-in companion. Sometimes it just takes the right person to motivate change.
“In high school I weighed 223 pounds, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and was gaining weight. I had terrible headaches that were related to high blood pressure,” Shirley explained. She made big lifestyle changes back then and lost the weight, incorporating exercise and healthy eating in her daily routine. “I love helping people feel better about themselves.”
Before coming to Nashville, Shirley lived in Houston and provided care for another woman with disabilities. The individual she supported in Houston had low self-esteem, and felt like nobody listened to her. “She felt like nobody cared, so she didn’t care about herself. You have to love yourself.” Shirley made it her mission to improve the person’s self-confidence and self-worth, and succeeded.
When Shirley moved to Nashville to be closer to her daughter, she brought that same desire to help people better themselves to her role at Progress. In her new role, Shirley would be supporting Sheena, and was advised of the challenges that lay ahead. In the past, Sheena experienced difficulty connecting with other staff and had developed a bit of a reputation. Confrontations with providers were a regular occurrence, but things changed practically overnight when Shirley came into the picture. “I tell everyone, don’t go by what people tell you, you have to get to know people first,” Shirley explained. That mindset paid off in a big way, and Sheena has made major improvements over the past year, both physically and mentally. Sheena is happier, friendlier, more outgoing, and seems to have a new outlook on life.
When Shirley and Sheena started living together, they made small tweaks to their routine. On the weekends, they began to incorporate walking as a part of errands, like going to Dollar Tree, Walmart and Sam’s Club to get extra steps. After walking became a bigger part of their lifestyle, Shirley encouraged Sheena to give the community gym a try. “Sheena had never done anything like that before, so we started small.” Before long, visiting the gym became a regular occurrence, and Sheena started to look forward to riding the stationary bike and walking on the treadmill. “We tried walking a little further each time. I am a healthy eater, so Sheena learned to enjoy eating healthy food that I cook. We have our treats, and if we overindulge, we just walk a little extra.”
“Shopping is my favorite exercise.” Sheena added.
The change in Sheena is like night and day. She’s lost over 50 pounds and no longer needs a CPAP machine to sleep. Sheena is more confident now, and is proud of her accomplishments. “Exercising was harder than healthy eating at first, but I feel good now.” Sheena gets along great with her roommate, is very easy to work with, and has confidence to do more to take care of herself. “She cleans, washes and folds her clothes, she’s more open now,” Shirley explained, “She can make eggs in the microwave, and we’re taking more baby steps in the kitchen.”
Sheena and Shirley have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. The healthy changes introduced into the household are there to stay, and exercise and healthy eating are practically second nature now.
“Shirley makes really good food,” Sheena said with a smile.
“I know how hard it is to suffer with weight.” Shirley added, “But health is a big part of our lives now.”
Shirley’s patience and understanding has helped Sheena stay the course. “I love my ladies, I enjoy my job. If I feel bad, they’ll say, Miss Shirley, you need to go take a bath. We take care of each other.”
When asked what she would say to anyone considering working with people with disabilities, Shirley’s response was, “Give it a chance. Just try it. One day you’ll need someone to take care of you. If you love to help people, this is a great job.”
Lily Wojcik, PR/Events Manager Progress
When Monisha talks about Billy and Robert, it’s clear she knows just about everything about them. She knows their idiosyncrasies, their strengths and their quirks. She knows who will usually offer a traffic report in the morning, and she knows who’s keeping tabs on the latest sports teams. She knows their histories and families, their work history, but most importantly she knows them.
“They’re like my brothers,” she explained one evening. What started out as a typical companion/roommate setup grew into a beautiful friendship, full of nurture and support from all parties. “They give me so much joy and have helped me through difficult times, in the same way I try to help them.”
Companions are the lifeblood of what Progress does. The people supported through Progress rely on companions to help them live as independently as possible. Companions cook meals, provide transportation to appointments, manage household maintenance, ensure the safety of each resident, and complete many other countless tasks on a daily basis. What is arguably most inspirational however, is the support system companions provide through life’s ups and downs. Companions are there every single day. On good days households may be bursting with laughter, and on other days, companions may be consoling their residents through difficult experiences or helping them navigate challenging behaviors. What is often unexpected though, is the ability for companions to feel that same familial support returned to them from the people they’re caring for.
Monisha was the first to acknowledge that she and the guys have had a rough year. Their house has had its share of difficult times recently. Earlier in the year Monisha’s sister passed away, Billy’s sister passed away unexpectedly, then Monisha’s mother became sick, and her son was diagnosed with a disability.
One day Billy caught Monisha crying, and told her everything would be alright. “They’ll come in and tell jokes,” Monisha explained with a smile.
“Laughing is better than crying.” Billy chimed in.
“When my son was diagnosed with a disability, at first I cried because I didn’t know how to handle it. These guys were a huge support for me, though.” Monisha’s son and husband live close by, and they visit the house regularly. Billy and Robert have an especially close relationship with Monisha’s son. “Robert is like a big brother and makes sure my son’s homework gets done. Billy likes to teach my son about the bible, as he’s attending a Christian academy. They’ll watch tv together.” The support Monisha received from Billy and Robert was a surprise that she never expected from the people she was responsible for caring for.
“I look at it as a big family.” Billy added.
“I take pride in what I do. A lot of people see it as a job. It is my life.” Monisha added that caring for her autistic brother while growing up played a big factor in her desire to help others today.
Like many companion homes, theirs operates like a well-oiled machine, with everyone playing a part in the day-to-day household responsibilities. Monisha explained that both of the guys assist with lots of things. Billy dusts, Robert does laundry. When Monisha takes the garbage out, Billy has often changed the bag before she’s back inside. Over the last year the guys have become even more independent & take extra pride in their home.
“We are like a family. We cook together and eat together. I cook for them, and do for them like I do at home. My husband cooks for them too, he loves them. If I’ve been out of town for a few days, I’m so happy to be back and I’ll say, ‘Honeys I’m home!’ and hug them.”
Billy and Robert agreed that Monisha is a “good lady, a good cook, a good mother, and a great person to talk to.”
“We’ve been through it all, but these guys keep me strong.”
The friendship that Monisha, Billy and Robert share is a powerful example of the types of relationships that can develop between companions and individuals. The bonds that form are often able to elevate all parties during life’s challenges. Monisha, Billy and Robert serve as an example of the fact that meaningful connections sometimes grow in unexpected places, and that support is never a one-way street.
Lily Wojcik, PR/Events Manager Progress
NASHVILLE, TN – August, 16 2016 – Progress received a $30,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation’s State Giving Program to assist with employment support for people with disabilities. Specifically, this grant will positively impact the local community by providing a variety of services including internships and placements for people with disabilities, helping them to successfully acquire and retain employment. Through the Employment Services Program, Progress uses a multi-pronged approach. The Employment Services Program is comprised of several categories - Project SEARCH, Ticket to Work and Job Training/Placement.
“The Walmart Foundation has demonstrated that they have dedicated themselves to bettering our community, in this case specifically supporting people with intellectual disabilities and employment skill building.” said Progress Executive Director Donna Goodaker. “We are extremely grateful for this gift; the foundation understands the magnitude of the disparity in employment for people with disabilities versus the rest of the population. The people we serve want to work, they just need the supports behind them to excel, and the Walmart Foundation understands the need as much as we do. ”
The Walmart Foundation’s State Giving Program supports organizations that create opportunities so people can live better, awarding grants that have a long-lasting, positive impact on communities across the U.S.
ECF Choices is a new program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that will be introduced in the State of Tennessee on July 1st, 2016. A few points outlining these new waiver services is below. Please contact us should you have any questions about the new ECF Choices program, or any other programs of Progress at 615-399-3000.
More to come; stay tuned!
News & Happenings
Access our archived blog here.