Tag Archives: physical disability

My Time at Wilder Adult Day Services

17 Sep

I keep wanting to write more statuses about my experience yesterday with the Amherst E. Wilder Adult Day Services center, so I decided to just blog about it. This day trip was a “Diversity & Inclusion” event planned by the boss of my current team at work for a team-building/personal development event. Having spent so many little “volunteer trips” with schools, etc. at nursing homes, I was expecting the day yesterday to be so depressing. Because nursing homes are depressing, ya know? I actually really hate spending time there. But at Wilder, regardless of the client’s age, physical limitations, mental health, anything- they are fully engaged and treated no differently than the staff members or volunteers. One thing that was stressed to us by the staff before we met the clients, was that we were NOT there to pity the clients. We weren’t there to babysit them or take care of things because they are so incapable, we were there to help them build their strengths and have the happiest and most fulfilling life possible. The clients’ sense of independence is VERY much respected, and a huge priority for staff.

Because I am just going to keep going back to all the little bits and pieces of the day anyway, let me walk you through our entire experience…

We got to Wilder first thing in the morning and went through about an hour of orientation. A staff member explained what the program was, walked us through some aging empathy exercises, and prepped us for the day’s events. In a nutshell, the Wilder’s Adult Day Health center is part of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and is kind of like day care for adults (though they stray away from the term “adult day care” because it sounds very patronizing). Basically it’s for those who have any kind of mental disability, physical limitation, or just plain aging that requires some supervision during the day (usually while their primary caregiver is at work, etc) but not so much that they need to be in a nursing home. The Wilder Center is also geared towards low-income clients. The empathy exercises we did included things like layering gloves on one hand and being asked to write out a grocery list (arthritis), putting in earplugs and trying to focus on a video while others talked loudly around us (like being in a public place with a hearing loss), and wearing glasses that had yellow clouds or white spots on them (cataracts/glaucoma) and trying to read our handouts. At Wilder there are three different levels of clients, and they hang out in separate rooms accordingly. There is the main room (the “Day room”) that serves the majority of the clients. Then there is the “Great room” that serves clients in the beginning stages of dementia/memory loss. They require more attention than those in the Day room, but are still fairly independent. The last room is the “Sun room”, which serves clients who are heavily affected by dementia/memory loss. I spent my day in the Day room.

So after orientation we went out to begin work with the clients. My boss Shirleen and myself joined baking group (some people refer to the different areas as “classes”- i.e. Baking class, Art class, Music class, etc. The staff members at Wilder prefer to call these “groups” because once again they like to take the stance as strengthening the client’s skills vs. treating them like they are incapable and need to be “taught” even the most simple activities) to help prepare the day’s snack. Apple crisp!!! With freshly picked apples. YUM. We sat at a table with about four clients, and all cored, peeled, and chopped bags and bags full of apples, put them into pans, added the crisp on top, etc. This is where I first met Muayad, who I wrote about on Facebook :) he didn’t say much during cooking group, and eventually got tired of all of our girl talk (he was the only male at our table) and decided to go work on art instead ;)

After baking, we joined the rest of the Day room clients. They were sitting in a huge circle (about 23 of them) learning about Land O’Lakes and then, as an activity for National Adult Day Services Week (yep, it’s this week!) were all discussing the things they loved about coming to Wilder.

Some of the responses included…
“Because all of my friends are here”
“When you’re here, you become a family”
“It feels like home.” (to which someone bitterly piped in… “BETTER than home!”)
“We all love each other”
“The music… and Walter’s dancing!”
“Yoga class!”

One client even said they hated weekends because they miss their friends too much and they get sad that they have to go two whole days without coming to Wilder. It was really neat to witness firsthand just how happy everyone was to be there. After discussion a staff member announced that it was time to play balloon volleyball. I’m thinking to myself, is she crazy!? But nope, she was serious. They lined up the wheelchairs and regular chairs in two rows of 5-6 on either side of the net, and started the game. I couldn’t believe how intense it was! I was laughing so hard the entire time. I was completely blown away by the spiking power of some of these folks, and they were all so competitive… cheering on their teammates, trash talking the other team, booing the refs for calls they didn’t agree with… It was hilarious. And what continually stuck out to me was how the staff spoke to the clients. At first I was almost surprised at the little jabs they would make, teasing them, etc., but they truly treated the clients as equals. And you can tell that they really appreciated it. There was just such a strong atmosphere of mutual respect that was unmistakable. Anyway, eventually we quit for lunch. Part of my team from LOL had spent the morning outside grilling, and we served the clients a delicious BBQ meal.

After lunch, we played more games. The next game was “Chicken Toss”. Everyone sat in a circle again, and in the middle of the room was four buckets, red yellow green and blue, and corresponding colored rubber chickens. The concept was simple: the clients walked up to the tape line on the floor, and had to try to throw the chickens into the buckets. If they made a chicken in a bucket, they got 25 points. If they landed a chicken in its corresponding colored bucket, they get 50 points. Everyone’s name was written on the white board, and the goal was to have the highest score. Once again, my immediate thought was “oh my gosh, half of the clients are so brittle, they’re going to hurt themselves just trying to throw that chicken three feet”, or “that lady can barely walk straight, how is she going to have the coordination to land a chicken in a bucket?”, but once again I was mistaken. In fact, not a single client had less than 25 points, so everyone got at least one into a bucket. Even the clients in wheelchairs played. Then they made us have a turn (at first I tried to pass- to which this little old lady with a walker yelled in a surprisingly loud voice, “what are you, TOO SCAAAARED?!?!”, which was then followed by a room full of laughter, so naturally I had to do it) The thing with this game though was that it wasn’t competitive at all. Everyone had to walk up and take their turn individually, and all of the clients would cheer for them and encourage them, no matter who it was. They all seemed to truly be friends, which was really cool because the room was full of clients of all different strengths and abilities. For example, some were in great physical health, but had obvious mental illness. Other’s were sharp as a tack, but had debilitating physical conditions. Many were a combination of both. But no matter what the reason for coming to Wilder, they all showed genuine love for one another. It honestly felt like a giant family.

The next game we played was “Retirement Bingo”, where all of the squares were phrases of things people in retirement do. I wrote about this on Facebook already, but this is when I got to sit with Muayad again. He needed help with Bingo because his English was not great. My first instinct in a situation like that is to sit quietly and just point out his bingo squares to him, but I kept thinking about how much the staff stressed talking to the clients and making them feel valued and respected. So instead of discounting him because he was difficult to communicate with, I started asking about what his first language was (Arabic), and as soon as I gave him the opportunity to talk about his home, he went from being completely silent with me to talking so fast I could barely keep up! He grew up in the Middle East and then moved to Italy in college. So English was actually his third language after Arabic and Italian. He told me all these stories (some of which I understood, some I didn’t) about Italy and about his home, and how hard it is to learn English here in America because everyone pronounces things so differently! He kept referencing the way we Minnesotans pronounce our “O”s :) Honestly I’m not even sure what his disability was (and we obviously weren’t allowed to ask) because apart from his language barrier, he seemed sharp as can be, and though he was older and obviously slowing down, when he got a Bingo, he jumped up and charged towards the prize table faster than I’ve ever seen any man with a cane walk! This other lady at our table (everyone called her “Mrs. Claus” because apparently she never takes off her Santa hat, haha) won two different bingos, and Muayad was laughing so hard and kept telling me how every time they play bingo she always wins twice, because she’s lucky.

After Bingo we got to eat our apple crisp (it was delicious!) and then did some wrap-up activities and headed home. I was SUPER sad to leave, and now all I can think about is going back. I was asking about volunteer opportunities, but they are only open during the day on weekdays, so apart from quitting my job I’m not sure how I could possibly make that work. Which really sucks. It’s strange because for some reason yesterday morning while I was getting ready to work and kinda dreading the day, I literally thought to myself, “When did my life become so empty?” I feel like my daily life is so bland, I love the company I work for but when it comes to my actual job and the day-to-day work I do, there is not the slightest ounce of passion. Yeah there are some things I prefer doing more than others, but I really don’t get excited about anything at work. And I honestly can’t picture myself ever getting super passionate about anything in the corporate world like I have seen some of my coworkers get. I assumed that it was just part of life to go to work, do your thing, come home, and find passion on the nights and weekends, but I don’t really know if I’m cut out for that. Furthermore, a couple months ago I was going through my old memory box at my parents’ house, and found an essay that I had written in tenth grade about my future career. The essay was about how I wanted to be a counselor, or something I could be emotionally invested in, and know I’m helping people, doing something I love. I wrote that no matter what anyone says, I will never work a 9-to-5 desk job just because it pays better, because that’s not how I’m wired and that’s not where I find my satisfaction. …Well, here I am. So that was kind of disappointing to read because I grew up and became exactly what my 16 year old self was determined never to become. To be honest I have been battling myself on this issue ever since I started full-time work, but I’m slave to my student loans. I swear if I didn’t have those tying me down right now, I would quit my job and travel, or at least move somewhere new, and make just enough money to pay the bills living cheaply, at least for a couple years until I feel emotionally prepared to settle into something permanent. Because no matter how much I love the company I work for, I am having the most difficult time accepting the fact that after years and years of being determined to travel and see other places and do work that I’m passionate about- I’ve nailed myself to the cross that is corporate life. So I’m sorry that this just got depressing but when I blog I just start typing and see where the wind blows me… That is all for now. Time to go ponder where my life is headed.

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