Eric B

Members of CPARC’s independent, group and cluster homes are there because of mental disabilities. I do not know the causes of these disabilities are but I imagine that CPARC’s members represent a variety of medical syndromes. I am fairly certain that that all members were born with their disabilities. The degree of mental disability varies with the individual. It is obvious when you first meet them in some, and not until you spend some time with them in others. Interestingly, this outward appearance of disability has nothing to do with the level of assisted living the members receive. Impairments mostly consisted of poor memory and ability to perform routine actions completely independently. Some of the members also seem to have physical symptoms as well. Some moved slower than normal and others had poor motor skills. Others had difficulty speaking or walked with an awkward gait. Some members were also quite elderly and had severe hearing loss, troubles walking around. In some cases it was hard to tell what was related to the mental disability and what was not.

CPARC’s goal in this case is to make sure that those with disabilities can live the same quality of life as everyone else, with the ultimate goal of complete independent living. Though this particular goal is very rarely accomplished, the organization does greatly benefit its members. Individuals are placed in an environment suitable to the degree of their disability. Those who need more assistance are placed in the group home where they all live together in one house, other members are given their own individual apartments, some even maintain their own small house. CPARC’s main function is to help them with things which they just could not do by themselves, such as taking them to the doctor, to pharmacies to fill prescriptions, to any store for shopping or out to the Laundromat. They also make sure that the members pay their bills and take their medication appropriately. Another major service is providing competitive employment for its members. Through CIT, the members can work, earn money and gain vocational skills. CPARC also tailors learning programs to each individual helping them develop social or other everyday skills that they are in need of.

I would say that my impact on the people I spent time with was minimal except for one case. I felt that I brightened most members days by visiting them. Many said that I should come back. Others didn’t seem to care one way or the other. I think that spending a couple hours with them only once could have a negative impact though, as they could think that I didn’t really care about my time with them, or that I didn’t want to come back, but that may be reading too much into it. I have made a new friend though: a woman at the group home who also happens to work in the caf with me. I admit I often ignored the workers with disabilities up until now, but getting to know this individual has been a great experience. We stop and talk when we can and have gotten to eat together once or twice on breaks. I’ve asked about some of the other members who live at the same group home and she’s filled me in with how they’re doing. She’s also introduced me to another one of her mentally disabled co-workers who is very outgoing and we have been getting to know each other as well.

CPRAC members face several problems in a “normative” society. One major problem, which some of the staff mentioned to me, is the increased use of technology in daily life. CPARC members seem to have difficulty with computers and other advances technology. These are things that must be done, yet these individuals have great difficulty. While advances make life easier for most of society, it actually makes things much harder on those with mental disabilities. Things they used to be able to by themselves, such as paying the bills, or doing taxes, now require additional aid. Similarly, the need for transportation either for a job or just to buy groceries or use a laundromat also makes things difficult and forces them to be reliant on others. I think its also very difficult for those with mental disabilities to find jobs, which is important because they don’t always have a family or other people to support them. Socially I think those members of CPARC are often ignored by society. I certainly felt that way when I visited them; they didn’t seem to get many other visits.

Some of the disability theory, and representations of the disabled in literature, that we have discussed has been very relatable to my actual life experience. Like so many characters, I too misjudged or misread the individual with the disability, giving them less credit than they disserved. Several of Garland Thompson’s applications of Douglas’s theories for dealing with the anomalous were also evident during my service. First, I do think that it’s members are often ignored by society. I felt a little like I was in another world during my hours with CPARC, I was not aware of its existence or how it works. It provides services that I was hardly even aware were necessary. Its members often did seem alone. The method of dealing with the disabled that I felt most however was the integration of the disabled with “normal” society. Meeting the woman at the group home who I get to see at work has allowed me to actively participate in integration. Its much more obvious when you’re the one actually doing it. I would also say that it s defiantly a positive way of interacting with people with disabilities.

For our final service learning experience with CPARC, we again visited the group home in Carlisle. When we came in, Stacey was in the dining room. She welcomed us and said how nice it was that we were visiting again. After talking about how her day at work went, Rachel came into the room. She had just gotten off work also. The two of them sat down at the table and we continued talking. Conversation began with what we all did for Easter. Stacy had planned to go out of the home to visit with her sister, but her sister had to go to the hospital. For a while after the topic had past, Stacy would interject repeating this. She would also chime in that she was a Redskin fan, and start naming famous Redskin players. Eventually I joined them at the table and we ended up talking for almost an hour. We discussed things other things like our schoolwork, past jobs all of us had had, our families and relatives, the army, and vacations and holidays. Nathan came into the room about half way through our conversation. We said hi, and Brian joked with him about Mehmood being a “bad boy.” (a topic of our interaction with Nathan from last week.) Nathan didn’t seem interesting in joining us at the table though and stepped outside to have a cigarette.
Next we went upstairs to see some of the other residents. First we stopped by Shelly’s room. She was sitting on her bed, doing word finds and watching TV just like we had found her the week before. Because once again she was not very talkative, and we didn’t want to interrupt the episode of Full House, We just settled in and watched it with her and began talking about the show. Turns out she new a whole lot more about it than we did. She had seen the episode before and would tell us what was going to happen next. She knew which actors were married and who their spouses are. During commercials she pointed out a product or two which she had in her room.
We moved on to Fred’s room. He was playing a wrestling game again on his PS2. His room mate was also there but didn’t seem able to talk and would just nod his head when we said anything to him. AJ was having trouble playing his game. Every 10 seconds or so, a screen would come up, pausing his game, that said that his controller had been disconnected. Though the controller was not actually disconnected, it must have been loose or something. AJ would just keep mashing buttons until the screen went away. Brian and I tried to fix it by tightening the connection and jiggling the wires, but with no luck. In the process though we discovered that one of the joysticks on Fred’s controller was completely broken but Fred didn’t seem to care.
Finally, we went back downstairs and found Stacey setting the table. I offered to help but she kindly refused. Nathan had just come in from smoking another cigarette and told Brian and I to come with him because he had something to show us. We went into the living room and he pulled back the curtains, pointed to a white SUV across the street and I believe he told us that it was broken. A couple seconds later, it pulled out. We questioned Nathan, but he continued to insist that it was broken. Nathan then asked us one at a time if we were his “buddy.” After we said yes he gave both of us a hug. At that point I noticed a picture hanging on the wall of him and someone else and we asked who it was. He kept saying he didn’t know even when we pointed to his face.
At that point it was time to go and we said our goodbyes and left.

When I realized that we were going to the same group home we visited last time I was a little worried because as hard as conversation is sometimes, already having exhausted some issues would only make it harder. Fortunately it turned out that this wasn’t the case. I really enjoyed our talk with Stacey and Rachel. It flowed pretty smoothly and there were hardly any of the awkward pauses that seem to happen often. I thought it was interesting that at one point Rachel expressed her annoyance over Stacey repeating things she had said before and which were completely off topic. It was rather annoying I admit and I may have done something similar in a conversation with someone without a mental disability, but just didn’t feel right saying anything in this case.
Spending time with Shelly drove home the fact that those with mental disabilities are all unique persons with different personalities just like everyone else, which I’ll admit to forgetting. While most residents, especially Stacey seemed really excited that we were visiting, Shelly seemed like she couldn’t care less. Her attitude once again was something along the lines of “you can come in and talk to me if you want but I’m not going to change how I spend my time in any way. I think I liked that though, some of the residents seem like little kids so often, but Shelly can and will do her own thing. It was a bit of refreshing independence.
Watching Fred play his Playstaion actually made me sad and angry at the same time. I don’t see how he could enjoy his games when they were pausing every other second or his controller was broken. That would be incredibly frustrating to me, I had a hard time watching. I really wish we could have fixed it for him. Last week I thought Fred was actually controlling the characters pretty well and doing most everything by himself, but I now know that he was just mashing buttons. The residents talk about playing football with one another, but honesty, I can’t picture them being able to play a more complex game like it at all.
Nathan confused me slightly. First tells us a car is broken as we watch is pull out into the street, then he doesn’t recognize his own picture. I find myself wondering why he would do these things. I’d really like to know a rational explaination but I just cant think of one. My overall reaction to this is pity I think; it just makes me sad that he’s unwilling, incapable or just doesn’t know any better.

This visit was probably the one that got to me the most. By getting to spend more time with the same people with mental disabilities, I got more of a look at what their lives are like and was able to see some different sides of the residents I visited. I also got a small glimpse at the difficulties and the emotional highs and lows of dealing with a those with mental disabilities. From this, I find myself better able to understand the character of Gilbert Grape.
The three main elements of my experience that I can relate to the movie are Stacey’s interruptions and repetition of past and irrelevant subject in conversation, Fred’s playing a malfunctioning video game, and Nathan’s denial of the obvious picture of himself. All of these cases were frustrating in some way for me. And each reason boiled down to the fact that the people with mental disabilities just didn’t get something that I took for granted. Whether it be a way of conversation or playing a game the “right” way, I just couldn’t understand why or how the residents acted the way they did. As a result, I became just a little bothered in some way and I found myself asking “why cant they just get it.”
I only spent 4 hours with these particular individuals though. Gilbert had to take care of his brother Arnie constantly. When I watched the movie I wondered how could Gilbert possible hit Arnie or abandon him because Gilbert knows that Arnie can’t help some of the things he does. Well I knew that the people I spent time with couldn’t help themselves with certain things either, and though it was easy to not show it, I did get frustrated at them. I can see these frustrations only getting worse with the more time I spent with the residents. I can see myself needing to be with other “normal” people after a while. Thus, I now have a much easier time relating to Gilberts actions. Spending so much time with Arnie, the limits and emotions placed on Gilbert are bound to boil over at some point and he just needed to get away.
On another note, the situation where Stacy continued to repeat herself in reminded me of a concept that came up in a class discussion on the idea that those without disabilities can have trouble interacting with those with disabilities because they don’t know how to address the disability. In my situation, I did not feel right calling Stacy on the repetition. I viewed it as part of her disability and just didn’t know if I should say anything, go with it, or just try to ignore it. What got me was that Rachel had no problem telling Stacy about it. This demonstrates the idea that only those with disabilities can freely discuss or bring out the disabilities of others with disabilities. At the same time though, I would be interested to know if Rachel viewed the repetition as part of Stacey’s disability or not. Also, I have a feeling that the CPARC staff would have no problem telling Stacy that they had already discussed a subject enough.

For our third service learning experience with CPARC we visited one of their cluster homes in Carlisle. As we arrived, some members of the home were just getting off the bus on the way home from work. When we got into the building, all the residents were in the dining room talking about their day. After introductions, Mehmood, the lead staff person on duty took us into his office and informed us about the cluster home program. What I found most significant, was range of age and disability of those in the program. The house we visited had one resident who was 22 and another in their 80’s. There is also a resident who had qualified for independent living, but has chosen to remain in the cluster home. The first person we spent time with was Fred, a young man only a couple years older than us. At the time he was busy playing a PS2 wrestling game about two feet away from the TV. Our conversation began around video games. Fred seemed to only have sports games. While we were talking he could only really concentrate on one thing at a time and if he said anything he would turn around and look at us without pausing his game, causing his character to get body slammed and who knows what else a couple times. Fred didn’t seem to care at all though. It turned out that his normal routine is to play PS2 after work until dinner. The conversation then shifted to his work, then and movies. Next we moved to Shelly’s room. Shelly is in her 40’s and is the individual who had qualified to live on her own, but declined. At this moment she was watching her soap opera’s and doing a cross word puzzle. Like Fred, this was what she usually did every day. She was not very talkative and we got the feeling that she would rather be alone. The next person we visited was Stacy, a woman in her mid 30’s, She actually said hi to us and invited us in before we even came to her door and she saw us. She must have heard us coming. Stacy was incredibly talkative and very friendly. She was also watching soap opera’s but turned off the TV to talk with us. She also has a Playstation and just got the latest Game Boy. Much to my surprise, she said that she remembered me from when she used to work at Dining Services at Dickinson. We went thought her entire family photo album and high school year book together. People, especially family and pictures were really important to Stacy. Next we spent a little time with Nathan, a man in his 60’s. We got to his room just as he was coming in with Mehmood. Nathan had a bit of a stutter and his hands shook as he was trying to unlock his door. Apparently he had fallen down recently and Mehmood was making sure he got to his room ok. Nathan told us that Mehmood made him fall, but that obviously wasn’t the case. Mehmmood called Nathan on it and made admit that he was lying. Nathan then tried to pass it off as joking. Mehmood told us that Nathan often tries to blame him for things. Nathan seemed to joke all the time and we weren’t really sure what we could believe when we talked to him. He was also difficult to understand. Next we revisited Fred; nothing really new came up as he was still involved in his game. This time though Fred’s room mate was present, a very old man. I tried to talk, but I don’t think he could hear me so it was not possible. It was getting close to dinner time and there was more activity down stairs again. We were able to see one more resident though, a woman in her 40’s named Rachel. I work with Rachel in the caf but until this point had never met or talked to her. Rachel had just gotten some new furniture that she was pretty happy about. We also discussed her goals and accomplishments with the CPARC program. When our conversation ended, it was getting to be dinner time and our time was up, so we said good bye to everyone in the dining room and left.

For a short while before I met him, I thought Fred was actually one of the staff. Even my partner Brian made a similar comment. It was a bit more interesting to spend time with Fred because closer to our age than any one else we’d been with before. Even though he was a bit older, it seemed more like I was talking to a younger cousin. I felt a little bad for him because there wasn’t anyone else near his age in the home and I know that would affect me. It hurt a little bit to watch him play as close as he did to the TV and it also seemed like he was just mashing buttons to some extent. I believe that Fred uses lifting equipment at work and when I first heard this I felt like that might be dangerous.
In Shelly’s room, I could see why she had been approved for independent housing. She seemed pretty content to just do her own thing and didn’t really care that we were in there, where as other residents seemed to really perk up and pay a lot of attention to us. I could see that she was nearing the end of her cross word puzzle and asked if she wanted any help finding the last couple words, she politely but forcefully declined. It was a lot different having her not really care about us. The conversation, though I bit forced on occasion, was never awkward as it is in some cases.
I was really surprised when Stacy invited us in before we even got close to our door, I don’t know if she was waiting for us or what. She was incredibly nice and we had a good time together, it got a bit tedious when she went through every picture in her family photo album and said everyone’s name in every picture; I got bored. But at the same time, it was kind of amazing to me that she knew her entire extended family. She also got out her high school year book, which I thought of at the time as kind of pathetic, since it had been years since she had been to high school, and the book seemed really worn, like she looked in it a lot. She also enjoyed sports a lot and was a big redskins fan, we actually discussed Redskin ‘greats’ from the past. It amazed met that her knowledge of the players went that deep. It seemed like Stacey was having a really good time with us and I felt sorry leaving her.
Our entire experience with Nathan was an awkward one because we could never really tell how we were meant to take the things he said. We were able to tell when some things were just jokes and were pretty funny. I regarded him as the clown of the home.
It was neat finally seeing one of the people who I work with in the caf, I had a feeling I would eventually. I didn’t recognize it at first though. Rachel mentioned it first and said that she had seem me during my lunch shift just a couple hours before. I felt bad because I could not say the same. I think I may be imagining it, but I almost got the feeling like she felt that we see each other a lot more than I thought we do. It was fun to talk to her about work though, and I’ve seen her there a couple times since and have stopped and talked with her for a little bit when able.

Two of Mary Douglas’s ways of coping with disabilities occurred to me as being illustrated in my visit to the cluster home. First, the only positive one, incorporation into society is basically CPARC’s mission. “Competitive employment” is a phrase I’ve heard from several staff members. They have also said that they continually trying to help those with mental disabilities function normally in society, always with the ultimate goal (whether possible or not,) of completely independent living.
Second, I have realized that I am guilty of dealing with the anomalous though avoidance. I’ve worked with Rachel at least once a week this whole semester, and I know we’ve crossed paths before, but when we met I didn’t recognize her. I think I just put her out of my mind or something.

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