Stacey Ro.

My second and final trip to the Carlisle House was an interesting experience in that it was similar to my first visit in some ways and very different in others. I entered the front hallway and came into the main common area, looking for familiar faces. I immediately spotted Ron, whom I had visited with previously. Again, he was sitting at the arts and crafts table, so I decided to join him. For about ten to fifteen minutes, we sat and chatted while coloring pictures and making different drawings. Until my old friend “Peanut” arrived, conversation felt a bit forced. She joined us and immediately made our discussion more comfortable. She asked me if I’d like to go to the kitchen so she could show me what they were having for dinner later this evening. I accompanied her and we eventually sat down at the kitchen tables where we proceeded to talk about various things, such as our days, the snow storm we had last night and what we planned to do for the Holidays. Eventually, we made our way back into the main common area where we visited with some of the people I had met on my previous visit, among other new faces as well. For the last few minutes of my second experiencce at Carlisle House, a group of people sat on the couches in the common area with both members and some staff. Although there were some quiet moments, overall, I had a relaxing and fun time on my second visit.
When I originally entered the front doors of Carlisle House for my second visit, I must admit that I was still a bit nervous. Because of the complications with planning our service Learning experience, I had only had time to have one previous visit. This was my second and final time interacting with the members of Carlisle House and I definitely still felt a bit anxious. When I walked in, I was happy to see Ron’s familiar face but after sitting with him at the arts table for a few minutes, and conversation still felt forced, I was content to have Peanut join us and make the discussion flow smoother. I definitely felt extremely pleased to have seemed to make a sort of connection with Peanut. In some odd way, I guess I had assumed she might not have remembered me, but she was pleased and excited to be spending time with me again and I loved that she remembered me. Although there were still some awkward moments while spending time with everyone in the main common area, I left today feeling happy that I felt as if I had made some sort of a connection with at least one member at the Carlisle House. I was sad to say goodbye to Peanut, but told her maybe I would see her after the holidays.
In class, we discussed five of Mary Douglas’s cultural coping responses to the anomalous. One of these, her first strategy; assigning a non-nomative body absolutely to one category or another, reminds me of my experience at Carlisie House with Peanut. I had assumed that because Peanut had certain mental or psychological disabilities, it meant she was impaired absolutely. I realized I had assumed that she would not even remember who I was. I think most of all this experience at Carlisle House, although short, has made me realize that it is dangerous and unfair to group the mentally or psychologicall disabled into one giant category. Each member of Carlisle House had different capabilities and potential, just as any “normative” person. I think that even though my experience with Carlisle House was short, it was still definitely a learning and eye opening one as well. Not only did I learn how applicable some of the theories we had discussed in class were to the Carlisle House members and my experience with them, but I also was able to accomplish one of my goals written about in my PSR, that is; I found at least one connection to make with someone at Carlisle House.

I entered Carlisle House and waited around for a couple of minutes idly, not quite sure what I should do with myself. Eventually, a middle aged, tiny, petite, woman approached me and informed me her name was “Peanut” and that she wanted to show me around. Even though I had already gotten a tour during my orientation, I accepted and she showed me around the facilities. After, we sat with Ron and a woman who did not give me her name at the arts and crafts table and made christmas cards for their and my family members using the arts supplies at the table. We all chatted and evenutally, Peanut informed me that she wanted to help decorate the Christmas tree with a woman who was already in the process of doing so. We both got up and walked over to the Christmas tree where we helped the other woman (she did not give me her name at any time) decorate the tree with lights, bulbs and beads. They were both extremely precise with their decorating skills and I tried to be as accomadating as possible. After, Peanut and I went into the kitchen and sat down for a bit while she told me as much as she knew about the facility, informing me that all members are active participants in the making of rules, regulations and activites provided at the Carlisle House Community. We sat for a while and eventually more Dickinson College students from our class arrived. Peanut and I went back to the main room where we spent the remainer of our tiem together helping everyone else out (who was involved) decorating the rest of the general “hang out” area. Lights, tinsel and signs gave the room a festive quality. Eventually, I realized the time and told Peanut and the other members I met that I had to be on my way, but promised I would be back within the next week.
When I first arrived at Carlisle House I was a bit nervous and apprehensive about what my time with the members was going to be like. I waited in the foyer for a few minutes to compose myself where I was eventually approached by Peanut. The fact that she approached me quickly put my nerves at ease and I was able to act more like myself. As she gave me my second tour around the facilities, we chatted while we walked and I realized that this was much like any conversation I would and could have with anyone outside of the Carlisle House community. Despite the fact that Peanut made me feel more at home, I was still nervous to interact with other members who seemed to be a little bit less self sufficient than Peanut as we made our way back to the main area. However, as I sat with Ron and the un-named woman and started making cards, I realized that my time spent with these members was much like spending time with a younger cousin or family member. Although they may be considered (by normative society) to be impaired in some way, they were still capable of comprehensive conversation and within twenty minutes of my time there, all of my fears and apprehensions were set at ease. Finally, while we decorated the rest of the common area, I realized that not only was I comfortable in my new surroundings, I was having fun! We all talked and laughed and I felt like I was having my first real “Christmas” experience of the Holiday season.
The experience I had today at Carlisle House made me realize just how applicable the concepts we have discussed in class thus far are to interacting with the members of Carlisle House. For example, we have talked in class, while discussing “Child of God,” that a society can shape and mold a man into a certain stereotype or stigma. Prior to attending my first service learning hour at Carlisle House, I had many assumptions about what my experience would be like and how the members would act. I think this is true for many members of “normative” society. Because they carry around certain assumptions and pre-conceived notions of what someone living with mental or psychological disabilities is like or how they may act, I believe that people with mental disabilities, such as the Carlisle House members, are forced into becoming the very stigma they have been labled with. Not because they truly are, but rather, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy takes place where any action they may make or do is attributed to that very stigma or stereotype. It was not until I spent my first quality service learning hour with the members of Carlisle House that I realized: Yes, these people live with mental disabilities, but this in no way makes them any less human or un-able to take part in normative society’s conversations or activities.

After finally attending my orientation into Carlisle House (now known as S.T.A.R. center) I was still rather confused as to what I should expect concerning my interaction and involvement with the staff and members of the center. I was introduced to a staff member named Lauren who gave me a brief overview of what exactly the S.T.A.R. center is and what it offers its clients or members. However, despite this information, I was not sure exactly how I should interact with the S.T.A.R. center members and what I should expect in terms of my experience with the program. I assumed that I would generally mingle with the members and attempt to gain some sort of a friendly basis on a personal level. Hopefully, future experiences with the program will erase any preconceived notions I may have had concerning people with mental disabilities. I hope that my interaction with the staff and members of the S.T.A.R. center community will open my eyes up to the humanity and individuality of every member who is part of the program I am taking part in. I have little to no past expereince with people who have mental disabilites and I hope that this service learning program will provide me with a better understanding of not only the difficulties people with disabilites face each day, but also the ways in which they are able to take part in every day activities and act as functioning citizens in the greater Carlisle community, especially since Carlisle House (S.T.A.R. Center) acts as an in-between community which aids mentally or physcologically disabled peoples bakc into the work force, social situations and the greater community.
Despite any fears or hesitationsI might have had about my attendance at the Carlisle House, I do hope that past experiences I have had in foreign and somewhat uncomfortable situations concerning volunteer work, may help me in adjusting to my environment at S.T.A.R. center. I think that working for the YWCA (Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Services) as well as volunteer work I have done overseas will help me to make a smooth transition into any potentially uncomfortable situations I may encounter while taking part in this service learning program. Also, I hope that my general good nautre and friendly attitude will make my time at Carlisle House a smooth, uncomplicated and enjoyable experience.
There are not many complications or problems I expect may take place during my experience at Carlisle House. However, one of the only potential problems I think we as Dickinson students may come across is a feeling of being unwanted as we are not simply members of the outside community, but we are also Dickinson College students, which may create an air of discomfort for the members of Carlisle House. However, this is merely a suggestion of potential problems we may encounter.
Overall, while reflecting on my potential experiences with Carlisle House, I can only hope that they are positive ones that will at best, open my mind to attain a better understanding of the humanity and life experiences of those who live with mental and psychological disabilities. I look forward to working and spending time with the members of Carlisle House.