Why Peace of Heart?
Routinely I am asked why my husband and I are starting a group home. Why am I personally assuming responsibility for the lives of 6 young women who can not navigate their lives without continual intervention and support, while also helping provide for the livelihood of the individuals that directly and indirectly help care for them, all while doing a calculated waltz with the state in order to comply with all governances and regulations to insure their safety and personal growth?
To answer their question, besides the obvious, that a tsunami of young persons with autism are aging out of the school system and into adulthood with limited or no options for programming or employment, the answer is quite simple. My daughter Gentry and her peers deserve the same opportunities in life as all individuals! Would it be easier to just be concerned about my own daughter, to provide her with her own living space and full time care with the resources provided for her? Probably. Would this be the most meaningful life for her? Probably not.
For me, this journey started with one young girl. In spite of her autism, Gentry is a very blessed child in the sense that her daily needs were never threatened. She grew up in a happy home with plenty of food and shelter. She has always had access to the best medical care and treatments we could find for her. Upon his passing, her father provided for her financially so all of this could continue. But still there was something missing. Growing up Gentry had no voice, was not being taught in school, nor was allowed extracurricular activities (even ones for persons with disabilities) because of her behaviors. She lived her life at home often in isolation from the rest of society. Life was unjust, unfair and the intensity of behavior threatened not only our safety but sanity.
After Gentry was diagnosed with bipolar but prior to her placement in a group home, she lived for a short 3 months in our small home affectionately called, “the cottage”. At the time this was the best place for her and God provided a wonderful mother and daughter team who could watch her around the clock. Fortunately, a medication regimen helped her gain control of her violent outburst that threatened not only her safety but of those around her, my pregnant self included. These were still confusing times for her although we saw her daily.
As soon as a home came available in Jacksonville equipped to care for her needs she began living with 5 others young women who also needed one on one support to thrive. “Strength in numbers” is what the director of her group home would say to me….we have the support in place that their familial home can not provide. He was absolutely right. Just like Gentry loved being strapped into a stroller or carseat so her restless body had no option but to relax, so it was at her new home. When her body became out of control, there were enough adults there for her to help gain control so she could feel safe again. In this climate she began to thrive.
What was more of surprise to me was the relationships Gentry forged in her new home. Almost all of her housemates are non-verbal and most were from vastly different home lives but they have a special bond. Like most good relationships, the true magic they share is unspoken. The pressure to live in an environment where they are the “odd man out” has been replaced by an atmosphere of acceptance and familiarity. She and her friends are the “norm” in her house.
While encouraged to be a part of her new home, the staff are not trying to fix or change her autism but encouraging skill sets that can help them live their lives with more dignity and independence. This realization was a hard one for me to swallow…the fact that for years I was inadvertently sending Gentry the message that her autistic behaviors needed to be silenced. Always underlying my actions or intentions was the desire that the noises, repetitive behaviors, throwing, perseveration with eating and running would go away. Wanting these to diminish is a very human desire. The stress they impose upon any person or family is truly super human but making one’s life mission to “make them go away” was, to say the least, to turn Gentry into an object to be fixed. Ugh. For years, I was constantly bombarding her with this message.
I am not trying to guilt trip myself here but wanting to communicate the “why” behind Peace of Heart Community. These beautiful young women deserve rights of passage just like all other human beings. With her typing Gentry communicates that she has the same desires as you and I…to have hope and a meaningful life. For Mother’s Day Gentry summarized it quite well (words are Gentry’s, written by Morgan Tyner)…
Gentry’s milestones will look much different if she did not have autism; however, she deserves milestones! Sharing life with her peers is no different than a similar aged young woman living in a sorority at college. We live in a society where people with commonalities are grouped together…faith organizations, memory care centers, sport teams, clubs and affiliations, places of employment, etc…Group home life is a viable and necessary option for Gentry and her peers. It is a choice that each person with a disability and their families make together.
Autism lived out at home can be very isolating and depressing. We lived it for many years. Community life is not only a gift to those who live it 24 hours a day but for all those who share in it. One central message that Peace of Heart Home hopes to deliver is that the shared life is the best life and that all persons have a valuable gift to give others. When we open our lives to those with difference, we are actually enhancing our life experience. When we interface with the other not as a helper or in a superior position but as a human being with vulnerabilities, we all benefit!
Persons living with autism can not hide their vulnerabilities like we can. In a way, that makes them miles ahead of us. They live life from the HEART. They have a heart intelligence bursting out to share with us. It is my hope that you will experience life with us in whatever way your heart needs healing. This is “why” Peace of Heart!