Diana W

My understanding of the types of impairments I was exposed to at CPARC is limited. I know that all the people I met have mental retardation. However, there are varying degrees of mental retardation. I learned that the different levels of retardation are based on the person’s IQ level. For example, the people with higher IQ’s are considered less retarded than the people with lower IQ’s. This seems rather obvious, but I hadn’t realized that there were varying degrees of mental retardation until I volunteered at CPARC. In fact, each different CPARC program pertains to varying levels of disability. For example, the people with the highest level of mental retardation live in the group home at CPARC, the people who are slightly less disabled live in the cluster appartments, and then the people who have more mild forms of mental retardation live in the North St. Apartments.

CPARC is such a beneficial agency because it gives so many opportunities to people with mental retardation. Each establishment I visited was filled with employees who seem to genuinely love working with people in need. The first place I visited was the cluster apartment complex, where people live in their own apartments, but have staff members right down the hall at all times. This is such a great option for people with milder forms of mental retardation because they can have the independence and agency in their own lives, but don’t have to worry about emergencies arising or becoming lonely because an employee is always close by. I feel that this is a great place for these people because it offers independence, while still providing the option of care when necessary. The group home is for people with a higher need for assistance than the cluster apartment tenants. I think the group home is incredible for these people because they live in a beautiful house, each person has her own room, and meals are made for them every day by an employee. The employees at the group home really seem to consider all the people part of a family. In the living room, there are portraits of each person who lives in the house. The home gives the people the sense of having a family, and they all seem to get along well and genuinely care about each other. The final CPARC establishment that I visited also seems full of positive opportunities for the people with disability. The North St. Apartments are for people who can pretty much function on their own, but need assistance from time to time. These apartments are very nice and spacious and the people seem to be able to lead very independent lives, handling their own groceries and small errands for the most part. They just need help getting rides places and with information they receive in the mail and things of that nature. The North St. Apartments are beneficial because they allow people to live among people without mental retardation and to do most things themselves instead of relying on other people. The CPARC organizations that I visited seem quite beneficial to the people involved because they provide them with opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to have.

I am not sure how much I personally impacted the people who utilize CPARC. I like to think that the people I met were happy to have someone to talk to and share their interests with. However, each week I went to a different organization with different people involved. I went to the Group Home twice, and the second time I don’t think that the women I had met two weeks ago still remembered me. I guess it doesn’t matter that they didn’t remember me; what matters is that they enjoyed my company. I do think everyone I met seemed excited to share parts of their lives to a stranger. They seemed thrilled to have someone take an interest in their lives and often showed us photo albums, paintings they had completed, and their favorite movies or stuffed animals. I do not think that I personally had a huge impact on these people, but the people did seem to appreciate having someone to talk to about themselves. In other words, I think the way I impacted these people was simply by being there, listening, and asking questions about their lives.

The problems the people who utilize CPARC face in “normative” society were never really addressed during my CPARC visits. I assume, however, that it is more difficult for them to be understood when they step outside of the CPARC establishments. I’m sure they have faced ridicule and mockery from certain people in “normative” society. For example, many of the people who utilize CPARC work at Walmart or at Dickinson College. I’m sure that in their job settings, there are times when they feel uncomfortable and face ill treatment. None of the people I met ever mentioned anything like this. However, when I was watching Spiderman with the members of the group home during my last visit, a couple of them expressed concern and sadness when Tobey Maguire’s character is being made fun of at the beginning of the movie. I didn’t make this link until now, but it could be that they identified with his character because of past experiences they’ve had with “normative society.”

My experience at CPARC connects to my work in class because my impression of mental retardation was very different from what it actually turned out to be like. I was definitely guilty of thinking that all people with mental retardation have difficulty speaking and can’t carry on conversations. While some of the people who utilize CPARC did exhibit some of these qualities I had imagined, for the most part my assumptions were wrong. Not only did I learn that there are so many varying degrees of mental retardation, but I also learned that it was possible to relate to people with mental retardation. Each person has her own distinct personality independent of the disability. They are not their disability in other words, like we have discussed in class. Rather, mental retardation is one aspect of their personalities, but not their entire beings. It was good for me to meet so many different people because it gave me the opportunity to realize that everyone had different senses of humor, past experiences, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Just as foreigners who come to our country are often grouped together as “French” or “Puerto Rican,” mentally retarded people are also grouped together in an all encompassing group. From my experiences at CPARC, I learned that our construction of disability in society is very skewed and unsettling.

We arrived at the back parking lot of CPARC at 3:00 on Friday. A man came and picked us up and took us to the same group home that we had visited two weeks ago. We arrived at the group home and this time we met the three other members of the house. A total of six people live in the group home, but the first time we went we had only met three of them because it had been Easter weekend. This time we met the remaining three, J, R, and P. J is a younger man, low 20s. We spent from 3-3:30 talking to him in the living room while the women S, C, and K sat and watched tv. J showed us his family photo albums where we saw pictures of his sister, mother, and his son. He then wanted to show us his room. At 3:3o we went to see his room. He showed us all of his video games, cds, and dvds. At 4:00 we went downstairs and spent the last hour watching Spiderman. Most of the people did not talk to us because J monopolized the conversation. At 5:00 we left.
This experience was more depressing than the last time we went to visit this same group home. Somehow, J seemed so desperate to talk, so desperate for a listener, that I felt kind of bad for him. Also, he kept mentioning his “little one” which I think was his son. He mentioned what he bought for him, the last time he saw him, and things like that. While I found it somewhat endearing, I also thought it was kind of sad that he referred to him as his little one the whole time. I don’t know why, but he just had such a sense of sadness to him. It was fun to try to connect to J on some level though, when he showed us his dvds and cd collection. It is just always hard though when volunteering, because when you think you’ve made some kind of connection with the person, they go and do something that shows that the connection was often more in your head. It wasn’t really happening so much as you hoped it was. This can just be kind of tiring and depressing somehow. The other people who live at the house were very quiet this time and they just didn’t seem that happy to me. While the house is very nice, and it is good that they all live together, I just felt a bit unsettled this time.
Visiting the group home this time around reminded me a lot of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” J definitely reminded me of Arnie from the movie because he was so sweet and seemed to really enjoy talking to new people. But at the same time, he couldn’t really connect to us on very many levels. Granted, J was able to talk and function more than Arnie was in the movie. J’s mental retardation does not seem as severe as Arnie’s was. However, when we talked about Arnie in class we had said that his sweetness and goodness was overplayed in the movie, stereotyping people with mental retardation. I have to say, though, that J seemed to have all the sweetness and goodness that the character from the movie exhibited. J seemed so genuinenly caring and interested in other people that it actually was touching. But at the same time it made meeting him kind of sad because I felt like he somehow deserved something better than the group home. The group home is great, but it just still doesn’t seem like a family either. My experience this time was a lot like seeing Arnie from the movie because it was interesting to discover that some of the stereotypical characteristics that Arnie displayed were actually very familiar to J’s personality.

This week we went to the North St Apartments. M picked us up in the CPARC parking lot at 4:00. On the ride over to the apartment building, she explained to us that the tenants in this apartment were more self sufficient than either of the places we have been before (the cluster apts and the group home). We arrived at the apartment building and met with a woman named E. Both M and E came with us to all the tenant’s apartments. We went to the first apartment around 4:10. It was a woman named M’s apartment. We spoke with her about her religious beliefs, a seminar she is attending, her boyfriend, and her family history. We stayed with M until about 5:00. Then we went to visit a man named R. We met him briefly and then were taken to C’s apartment. There we also talked about religion, C’s past, her boyfriend, and what she was having for dinner. We left her place around 5:30. We then went to visit the last person of the day D. She was watching tv and practicing writing a letter. We stayed and talked with her until 6:00. Then M drove us back to campus.
This experience was definitely different from the last two. The people we met at the North St Apartments were so much more “with it” so to speak. We could carry on extensive conversations with him about serious topics. For example, when we met the first woman M she was a riot. She had a great sense of humor and could answer everything we asked. This was a big difference from all the other members of CPARC that we have met. M is attending this religious seminar in Carlisle during this month and that was kind of disturbing to hear about. The seminar leader talks about armaggedon and the presence of the beast etc. But M seems to be so convinced that what he says is true and she is an avid bible reader. While I was disturbed at the ideas that this man is preaching, the idea of religion in general does seem to help M. It gives her something to spend time on and look forward to. M also told me she has an ex husband, which surprised me because I don’t tend to think of people with mental retardation as marrying. Overall M was a lot of fun to be around and I really enjoyed her company, which is the first time I can say this about my CPARC experiences. R was a little harder to understand and we didn’t talk with him for very long, but the woman C was also a good conversationalist. She wasn’t quite as chatty as M, but I was impressed with how nice and at home her apartment felt. She has an artistic flare and she also loves plants. She seemed very self sufficient because we met her when she had just come back from the grocery store. I was impressed at her generosity because the woman from CPARC M who picked us up was complementing C’s dish towels and C offered to give her one. C seemed like a genuinely good hearted person and she also talked about religion, which I found interesting. The role of religion really seems to play a big part in these women’s lives. The last woman we met D was a little more difficult to understand and her apartment smelled awful. I felt bad judging her, but it was actually hard to be in the room because of the odor. She did seem friendly, but she didn’t seem quite as self sufficient and talkative as the other tenants we had met. I was happy to leave her apartment I have to say. Overall, I was just extremely impressed by the women who work with these people M and E. They are just such kind hearted, patient people and I just could never imagine doing what they do. M has been with CPARC 20 years which seemed amazing to me. And E just works here as a part time job on top of her full time job because she likes it so much. I was touched by their kindness actually.
This experience probably reminds me most of Douglas’ concept of dirt, specifically her first way she describes of coping with disabilities. The first strategy is for people to want to classify others as either disabled or abled. One or the other with no room for grey. I would say that the first two visits with CPARC were kind of easy for me to label as meeting people with disabilities. I was classifying the people as disabled without even being conscious of it even. But this week was different because I found myself wanting to ask, “Well wait, is M really considered mentally retarded? She doesn’t seem like it.” I did actually ask something along those lines to E and she informed me that there were obviously different IQ levels within CPARC’s members and that M would be considered on the higher IQ end. I was surprised somehow that I hadn’t realized there would of course be varying degrees of mental retardation, but I feel like even movies like “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” help to perpetuate our one dimensional idea of mental retardation. I am definitely guilty of wanting to just clump disabled people in one category and able bodied people in another, as Douglas discusses. However, meeting the people at the N. St Apts forced me to think outside of my simple classification system. I actually saw the grey area this time, which is important.

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