In this month’s newsletter you will read a beautiful article written by NER Supervisor, Dylan Croeker, in which you will hear the voices of four people we support who have made a home with each other. Not a house, but a home.
What makes a house into a home?
I have an exercise for you. Find a piece of scrap paper and write down three words that define “home” for you. Then, ask someone who you trust to write down their 3 words and then compare lists. Any similarities? Any surprises?
In my 1 month at NER, I have seen our dedicated and talented staff go above and beyond to help the people we support feel at home. You see, NER staff understand that homes are much more than mere houses.
A NER home is a community. It is a place where we belong with each other and with our neighbors. With the recent killing of George Floyd, we have even more proof that we need communities where we ALL belong and are treated in a just manner. At NER, we commit to nurturing anti-racist communities that value diversity, in all its dimensions.
A NER home is a refuge. It is a safe place, where we feel we can set down our concerns and be ourselves and be comforted. And, in a world of COVID-19, we need this refuge more than ever. Our staff are following the constantly-changing state and federal rules, guidelines, and best practices to provide the safest environment possible.
A NER home is a place where people we support feel proud to live. It is a place that is well-maintained and cared for, inside and out. It is a place where we have welcomed family and friends and will do so again when the threat posed by COVID-19 has lessened.
We need home, now more than ever. At NER, we promise to keep providing that home environment for the people we support and our amazing staff as we seek healing, justice, and peace for and between all of our neighbors.
Cloth Face Masks Needed
Northeast Residence has been fortunate to have quite a few employees, family members, friends, and community volunteers willing to make cloth face masks for our employees and the people we support. We are anticipating the need to have access to cloth face masks for an unforeseeable amount of time and will need to replenish masks for various reasons.
If you or your friends have the resources and materials to make cloth masks, we would really appreciate your assistance with this during this time of need. Please contact Lin Curran at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sondra Hampton at email@example.com if you are able to help us out.
Thank you to everyone who has generously donated the masks to the employees and people supported at NER.
“As a parent, I feel like I agonized over it for 20 years. What is the right place? What kind of life are they going to live? Really, you can’t even imagine how much that weighs on a parent’s mind.” - Char Donahue
This is a story about 4 friends whose roots run deep. 20+ years ago, three friends went to the same high school, White Bear Lake South Campus. If you hang out with these friends long enough, you’ll hear “South Campus” thrown around frequently - a celebration of shared history, struggle, and pride.
“Actually, Jake, Sean, Brad, and I all went to school down at South Campus” Jesse says with a smile.
They then were participants in the same vocational program, also through South Campus. Through these vocational programs, Sean, Jake, and Jesse found out about their interests and abilities. They also got to build deeper relationships with their peers.
“Yeah, Sean, Jesse, and I would have lunch together. [Sean] was a goofball and a troublemaker then, just like now” Jake jokes.
In the fall of 2000, Jake and Sean moved into a new and custom-made home in Hugo, MN, just up the road from the beloved South Campus they shared. Northeast Residence had just built a unique new set of group homes. Neighboring houses in a new development, designed to allow for convenient socialization and outings with a wider group of peers. Both Sean and Jake moved in and have shared friendship through the highs and lows that come with a life of challenge, risk, opportunity, and adventure.
“You nurture them in so many ways, for so long. There’s a trust that has to happen [when choosing to send them to their next home].” - Char Donahue
Two years ago, another proud South Campus graduate, Brad, moved in through the recommendation and hard work of his case manager at the time. Brad was younger than Jake and Sean, so he came through the program after they’d left. Brad had struggled to find the appropriate place to move out of his parents’ place. Brad is active, positive, energetic, interested, and social. The pace of other group-home placements had been too slow, too internal, and Brad did not have an easy time fitting in socially. Brad flourished and found a home here at Hugo. Brad’s parents have become part of our Hugo family and have repeatedly expressed appreciation for the increased freedom both they and Brad have enjoyed since Brad joined Hugo. Brad has continued to be a big part of White Bear Special Olympics since graduating high school.
Now here’s the *really* cool part: Special Olympics teammate and proud White Bear South Campus alum, Jesse, was practicing with fellow Bear, Brad. Brad’s mom was talking with Jesse’s mom. Brad and Jesse had known each other about 15 years. Ann and Char, their mothers, were watching their sons play Poly Hockey, and Ann was asking Char about openings. At the time, there was none. Within a week of that conversation, though, an opening became a possibility. Within a month, Ann and Jesse were touring Hugo. Shortly after that, Jesse moved in. Since then, we’ve faced a terrible virus, a massive disruption, and innumerable emotional and conditional challenges. Through it all, they’ve had each other. And that’s a lot. I feel tremendously fortunate to work for this group of friends every day.
“I said, 'If there are going to be any openings over there, let me know!' When I see Jake and Sean at bowling, I would ask if they had any openings. Then Char told me that there was going to be an opening! The fact that Jesse knew Sean, Brad, and Jake already made it sound like a good fit.” - Anne Linde
"I’ve had my eye on this house for a while, even though I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know anything about it, really. I just knew some of the people that lived there, and I knew the company that ran it.” - Anne Linde
“Part of the reason we agreed to move was meeting you and feeling so good about you. When I met you, it was all over. I’ve told so many people all about you, it would have been so much harder if not for you. ‘He’s just a big guy with a wide smile, it got me to change my mind after 45 years.’ That says a lot.” - Anne Linde
As we go along navigating life with COVID-19, we’re experiencing lots of new challenges that we haven’t had to face before. One of those challenges is that we are having to pay more attention to keeping ourselves, as well as those around us, safe – especially now with public areas beginning to open again. While this is a step towards returning to normal, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t mean our preventative measures can stop.
With that being said, it will be a group effort to ensure the safety of the people NER supports.
Using universal precautions, practicing social-distancing, and wearing a mask have been the broken record playing these last few months. But, continuing these practices is more important now as we start leaving our homes. Educating our loved-ones and the people we support on what is happening and why it’s important to be taking these safety measures can give them a better understanding of why things haven’t exactly returned to normal yet. Helping each other to cope during these times can make the desire to give up this battle less tempting. Finding ways to work around these restrictions can help all of us get through this and do so while keeping everyone safe.
Although we are moving in the direction we want to be going in, it’s important to remember that we may be winning the battle, but we still don’t want to lose the war. The record may be broken, but its song still rings true. If all of us do our part and continue practicing the measures put in place, we can ensure the safety of the people NER supports, staff, families, and more.
Carla Pleasants has worked in many roles over her 32 cumulative years at Northeast Residence. Her mom, Jan, started working with the Respite Program when it was a pilot program in an effort to toilet train children with autism in the mid-to-late 1970’s. Carla was looking for a part-time job that would coincide with her part-time college internship. Jan mentioned coming to work at NER. Carla began her career with NER working at “The Convent” in late 1982 or early 1983 and worked there for one year, gradually moving to the Respite program. Though Carla had other jobs after that, she always kept a piece of herself at NER. In the summer of 1986, Carla decided to go on-call and then came back to a part-time direct support position in 1987. Three years later, Carla became a lead direct support staff and was promoted to the QIDP position in 1994. Carla continued as a QIDP for the Respite Program until 2014 and was asked by the Administrator to switch to a QIDP for some of the long-term group homes. In January 2019, she took on the role of a FT Program Manager for the West Community.
One of Carla’s fondest memories with NER was working with a team of people filling water balloons for the Bed Race held during the White Bear Lake Manitou Days “back in the day.” She brought her two older children to help and enjoy the fun. Yes, we filled (and tied) hundreds upon hundreds of balloons and sold them as part of the infamous Bed Races, a fundraising event for NER. Another very memorable, fun story was when a person staying at the Respite Program found out what was for dinner and apparently didn’t like the answer. Right as everyone was sitting down for dinner, Pizza Hut delivery was at the door with pizzas this person had unknowingly ordered! Over the recent years, Carla was a team member of the Fun Committee and the Halloween Extravaganza Committee.
When asked what is most enjoyable about her job, Carla answered “The number one enjoyment is definitely the one-to-one interaction with the individuals receiving services from NER. I have learned so much from each person, starting from the people that have come through the Respite doors; watching individuals become more confident as they learn to be away from family members, watching parents discover that their child can have a life outside of the family home that can be filled with experiences, contentment, and joy. In the long-term sites, I have had the opportunity to continue developing these relationships, and each one is special. I have stayed at NER as long as I have, because I believe in the mission of NER. I believe in the people who call a long-term NER site, 'home.' And, I have been blessed with some of the very best co-workers to be found anywhere in this field."
Volunteer work is very important to Carla. She even volunteered to be a candy-striper when she was just in the 9th grade. Over the years, she has volunteered working with survivors of sexual abuse, helped on a teen hotline, taught confirmation and Sunday School classes, tutored reading, and, most recently, she has been helping teens experiencing trouble with family and school life. Carla has three daughters. The two younger daughters have great guys by their side. Her oldest daughter is married and has three children. Carla has decided to step away from her Program Manager position at NER and looks forward to spending a lot of time with her grandchildren this summer. She said, “It’s a good thing they like me!” As you will notice from the picture leading into this article, Timber is Carla’s loyal hiking buddy. She also has two cats and a rabbit as family members.
We thank Carla for all of her years here at Northeast Residence. And though she is stepping away from being a Program Manager, she will not be a stranger by any means.