On Being "Different"
I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of "normal", as in "when things get back to normal." This reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago, so I revisited it and modified it a bit. It definitely describes one of the greatest qualities of NER.
On Being Different
by Eric Schnell
It started with when they called me “fish-eyes.”
You see, I have these giant eyes and so it isn't a surprise
that kids focused on their size and I wanted to know why
because I just wanted to be one of the "normal" guys.
“Eric frequently cries”
my teachers said.
I’m not like the other guys was my secret dread.
I wanted to say to those kids acting snotty
“Sure, sticks and stones can break my body
but words can cut me deep. ”
Yeah, I knew I was different because I felt so much...
The sadness leaked out of these fish-eyes of mine
and kids laughed, and teased, until my face shined
and I’d come home and say, “You know, I’d be lying if I said my day was fine.”
I wanted so badly to be “normal.”
“Fish-eyes” launched my quest to be the same,
to play the game and have a name
that people would call out in gym class and say
“Hey Eric, you’re strong, come along, you belong.”
But I was rarely picked
and after a while, I began to hate my style.
And then for a while, I forgot I had a style.
Never, ever lose your style. Ever.
My style came back eventually, because I had a family who loved me constantly, lavishly, generously, unconditionally.
And this is how I learned that the best way for me to be
is to BE, unusually.
Heck yeah I am different, and not to be too informal
but when you break it all down NONE of us are “normal."
We’re all on some spectrum of difference. Aren’t we?
Now, what does our lack of normality have to do with disability?
Well you see...
We can’t really appreciate people with disabilities
If we aren’t prepared to welcome quite radically
the parts of ourselves that don’t actually fit
with the myth of normality (that’s full of, well, you know.)
Lifting up disability means we’re willing to change,
to confront our fears of being seen as strange.
Lifting up disability means we proudly proclaim
that “normality” sucks, we’re not all the same!
Lifting up disability means that we promise
to fully engage disabled people among us.
To be their friends and allies in community,
because at NER, together, we see.
We all have a longing for belonging.
NER is a place where being different is celebrated.
NER is a place where our differences are elevated.
So we can learn from each other and be who we are.
With this perspective we all can go far.
And this is what's special about NER!
Tammy has called the NER Brenner site "home" for just over twenty years: She moved to the home in October 2020. She has lived with one of her housemates, Eric, for 18 years. She also shares her home with two other individuals.
Tammy has attended Merrick, Inc. for many years. During this time, she has participated in various in-house job contracts. Tammy takes pride in doing her best at her job tasks and enjoys earning money. While she is happy to be back at Merrick, seeing her friends and earning money, she also enjoyed her time off while Merrick was closed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Personal relationships are important to Tammy. She has a strong relationship with her housemates and staff. She also has a strong relationship with her father, who is very important to her. She talks to him daily by phone.
Tammy can be described as a very caring, compassionate, and sensitive person. She has a fondness for babies, young children, and animals. Tammy has empathy for others and does not like to hurt anyone’s feelings. She likes to have conversations with others. She will talk about her friends, her interests, the happenings of the day, and things she would like to do. Tammy includes others in her conversations, so that no one is left out.
When Tammy is at home, she enjoys using her iPad and computer. She likes fun music, her dolls, stuffed animals, talking with housemates and staff, and looking at books. She also enjoys spending time with Beau, the dog that lives on site with the live-in staff.
Tammy also enjoys getting out of the home and doing things in the community, with shopping and going out to eat being favorites. Her bedroom contains many of her purchases, which are important to her. Tammy stated that one of her most important belongings is a doll she bought when she went shopping with Lexi, the site Coordinator. Tammy named the doll "Ashley."
Perhaps the following events help to best describe Tammy’s character and personality:
A housemate of Tammy’s recently started working in-house at Merrick. Tammy wanted to help alleviate any nervous thoughts and feelings her housemate might have had, so she provided information about what to expect, who would be there, and reminded the housemate that she would be there to talk to and answer any questions if needed.
Another strong indicator of Tammy’s kind spirit and compassion is the following statement from one of her housemates, who wanted to make sure that people knew the following:
“When I was in the TCU during part of the summer, Tammy would talk to me on the phone. She helped to keep my spirits up. She is a good friend.”
Tammy is a good friend, and her smile can brighten up the day for everyone around her.
Out & About
How do you make a friend?
When you have medical conditions that make you more susceptible to complications from a virus that has reached pandemic levels, how do you make a friend? When you are not able to go places where friends might normally be found, how do you find a friend? When you get older and your friends of a lifetime have had shorter life journey’s than yours, how do you make new friends?
As an older person living in a group home, there may not be easy answers to these questions. I recently read an article that said that people who live to old age tend to have one thing in common - a strong support network of friends and relatives. People who live in our homes have the right to choose their own friends and should not have their friends chosen for them. This is also a guiding principle of person-centered philosophy. Where does this leave us, as staff, in “unprecedented times” of a pandemic?
Virtual meet-ups have taken off in the last seven months - both professionally and personally. The people that we support may not have the tech-savvy skills to arrange meet-ups of their own, and they depend on staff to facilitate any online socialization. We have seen or been a part of many online day-programming efforts for people who live at our houses. But, what about the people who don’t have this option? A group of NER management staff has come together to facilitate two groups of “ladies of a certain age” that will be meeting every two weeks to do activities over Zoom. The focus of the groups is to provide a setting where friendships can be made and fostered online. Many cities have moved their recreation classes to an online platform. Additionally, we can help the people-supported place phone calls or arrange virtual meetings with their family or friends.
In these “unprecedented times,” we must all work together to keep our support networks strong.
For the month of November, I felt it important to put the spotlight on the five Program Managers (PM) who work for Northeast Residence (NER). A Program Manager is responsible for overseeing five long-term care sites which we have in community settings. The PMs directly supervise the Program Supervisor/Coordinator and assist with overseeing the living conditions for individuals supported at NER. The Program Managers are also responsible for the Designated Coordinator responsibilities for the Program Coordinators. Often the PMs are helping to fill shifts at the sites they oversee, to mentor, and to assist with training. I am grateful every day for this team of hard-working employees.
I have been in this field since I was 16-years-old, and I have worked mostly in highly behavioral homes and with individuals with autism.
I grew up with a sister with Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) and Bi-Polar, as well as with a parent with mental illnesses. Initially, I wanted to become a special education teacher because of watching how my sister was treated in school and schools not understanding disabilities to the extent that they do now. While I was in college, I started working at a day program and then in a group home. And from the first day I started working at a group home, I decided right then and there it is where I belong. I have been working in group homes ever since.
The one thing that keeps me in this field is seeing the difference you make in others’ lives, even with just the smallest things. Another thing is the different perspective individuals give you on life. Of course, working with individuals in this field brings unique challenges and opportunities. But at the end of the day, that feeling of knowing you made a positive impact in someone’s life, and helped them to grow to their fullest potential, is the most amazing and rewarding feeling. Why would you not want to feel that?
One of the first companies I managed a home at, I worked with an individual that always wanted to get her license. Of course, due to her disabilities, the team knew that it was just not physically possible. I remember having a phone call with her guardian and getting permission to rent a car with her finances and explained my plan. Now we didn’t just rent any car, we rented a royal blue convertible, her favorite color and dream vehicle. She always talked about wanting a convertible to drive. We took her to downtown Stillwater with her sitting in the middle, letting her hold the steering wheel with one hand. The joy on her face and sounds of happiness and excitement coming from her that day will be forever imprinted in my brain. One of the most rewarding experiences ever. The most important thing to me is my family, especially my children. My favorite things to do/hobbies are photography, reading, baking, most anything to do with crafting, and spending time in nature.
I have been in the field since 2002, where I started as a direct care staff. After a year-and-a-half, and much continued encouragement from the facility RN, I applied for the lead position - which I held for a year before being promoted to one of only two training Leads within the organization. A year-and-a-half later, I was promoted into my first salaried supervisory position. I've held several supervisory positions with several organizations, along with at least one part-time job as DSS or mental health practitioner over the years. I've directly supervised up to four programs at once, along with float staff.
I went through a brief but life changing time where I indulged in self-pity due to the situation I was dealing with at the time. Through prayer, I was able to see things from a different perspective, causing an overwhelming desire to help others.
I never imagined this is the path my life would take. I love this field and my profession, because it provides a very rewarding sense of accomplishment. I love the fact that I'm able to help make others' lives more rewarding by helping them live their lives to the fullest. It is a blessing. I also love the coaching and training aspects of my job.
It always feels really good to gain folks' trust and respect. We have the honor of being responsible for another human's daily well-being... this is a daily reward for me.
I love being with family. I love traveling overall, whether it's local or abroad. Cruising is my favorite thing to do with my family. I enjoy bowling, reading, darts, snorkeling, and I have a desire to skydive and bungy jump for the first time within the next year. I'm adventurous and enjoy trying new things. I enjoy a good steak and glass of wine or Mimosa!
I have worked in this field in one way or another for the better part of the last 20 years or so. I started from the ground floor. My first position was as a part-timer, and that naturally grew along my journey all the way into my current position as a PM -all this time later. I have worked in school settings, day programs, GH, SLS, ICF, and everything in between!
I have always wanted to help and empower people. I found this field and got to do just that! I have always been a person who naturally just fit in this field. I think it is truly what I was meant to be doing.
I have really enjoyed the relationships and successes I have gotten to be a part of over the years! It has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience. I have also been invested in making what we do more and more personally fulfilling for the persons served! It has been awesome to get to be a part of such monumental changes and growth as a support system!
I was new to the population we work with and met a wonderful kindergartener with autism who changed my life. To get to meet him and learn the different way he processed the world around us was so eye opening. Then I got to help him learn how he could best navigate it, and that was what solidified my career path. Helping him build the foundation he would need to successfully move through the rest of his grade school path ahead of him was life changing for both of us. He will forever have a special place in my heart!
Never stop growing. That is the approach I take life on with. It is what I hope to help others live by as well!
I like to be outdoors. Camping, picnics at beaches, and bonfires in my garden out back are all up my ally! There is just something recharging about soaking up some fresh air and spending time with your favorite people!
Many moons ago, I wanted to be an Occupational Therapist. I interned in LTC facilities and loved the notion of supporting people to live their best life (“Best”). Things evolved, and I spent the greater part of my adult life as Director of Development for nonprofits, ranging from faith-based (Archdiocese of Milwaukee), culture/arts, animal rescues, and educational. I orchestrated Stewardship drives, Annual Campaigns, Donor-relations efforts, Special events (Golf, Gala, Color Runs), established a Guardian Angel Scholarship Fund for a faith-based School, and wrote winning grants. I even received an award from the Green Bay Packer Foundation (for you Packer Backers!)
Last Fall (2019), I took some time off for myself, as Development is a very challenging career. I took a step back to recharge and re-evaluate, and I found myself seeking other avenues in which to help support and enrich lives in a more hands-on way. And *poof*…NER posted for a Program Coordinator position, and here I am.
I am the proud mother of three adult children and one granddaughter, who are the Light of My Life. They all live in the Twin Cities. I share my home with three dogs who keep me entertained, and during COVID, somewhat sane. I grew up on a lake, sailing competitively. And I continue to gravitate to the water and the woods. I ski, snowshoe, hike, and boat. I love getting to the cabin in the UP of Michigan that my Dad build for rest and relaxation.
Last week, the Lead DSS staff at Rollingview, where I had been Sup/DC., stopped by the office and asked me to record a video of myself for the ladies. They had been asking for/about me, one in particular, who has nicknames for staff. That brought chills to my spine and tears to my eyes. I sent the video this past week, and apparently their reaction was more than I could have hoped for. It’s nice to know that I haven’t been forgotten and seemingly brought some joy to them while I was there.
I have been working in this field since 2007 (about 13 years). I started as weekend staff working with people with mental health in different disorders. I worked my way up after a year to a lead staff position, then as Program Coordinator in the second year. I was able to become a Program Coordinator for two sites, and I helped that organization to open their first two homes for offender status. I also worked as an ARMHS worker, helping individuals with their mental health symptoms in their home, community, and work. I taught in a classroom setting how to cope with symptoms. I worked as Program Manager and Program Director in different organizations over the past 7 years.
What really made me work in this field at first was my uncle who had struggled with mental health growing up. I wanted to help and make difference. Then, after working in this field, I loved helping people with disabilities and making a difference in their daily lives. I like the idea of being a part of success of someone’s life.
I worked with someone who was non-verbal, and the family didn’t believe in sign language. I went beyond their expectations and convinced them to try. And after 3 months work and progress, I was able to change their mind, as their loved one was able to use sign language.
Family is very important to me and the quality times that I spend with them. My hobby is soccer as player or coaching. I have traveled a lot and have been to 13 different countries.