Open house welcomes open hearts
The following story appears in CLBC’s new safeguards resource “The Power of Knowing Each Other: Stories about Informal Safeguards told by BC Families”. Developed by CLBC and the Family Support Institute (FSI), the book is meant to inspire and stimulate people’s thinking about informal safeguards.
Zackery’s mother, Barbarah, describes her 20-year-old son as a lovely young man with a nice personality. He is someone who appreciates calm and peaceful surroundings. Zackery enjoys walking at the outdoor track, going swimming and taking dance lessons with his mom. When he is at home, Zackery spends time reading books, playing computer games or sitting by a living room window that overlooks the ocean. He finds pleasure in watching the tugboats move through the water. Zackery has a developmental delay and a diagnosis of Autism, but it’s his extreme anxiety that presents the biggest challenge for Zackery. His anxiety can be triggered by any number of things. Sometimes it’s just getting his hair cut or if there is something unexpected in his life. Little children or dogs can trigger anxiety in Zackery. When his anxiety is extreme, he will become severely agitated within just a few seconds. The anxiety can take hold of him for seconds, minutes or much longer and during this time he can harm himself or others in the vicinity. These episodes can take a long time for Zackery to get through and often end in tears. Once over, Zackery will return to being an easy going, peaceful young man.
His anxiety and the resulting behaviour make it critical to have compatible people in Zackery’s life – people he can trust and who have a calming and positive influence. Zackery intuitively senses the difference between people who enter his home to work with him and those who drop by as a friend. The people who come in to work can be a trigger for Zackery’s anxiety. Barbarah believes Zackery has a negative sense of self but when he is with people who genuinely like him, he feels that he is a good person. Once people spend time with Zackery, they are able to discover his wonderful character and personality. Barbarah and Zackery live a unique life and it’s been challenging for Zackery to make friends in traditional ways.
Barbarah and Zackery moved to a new community in 2007. Barbarah moved several months before her son in order to settle in and find a home for them. During this time, Barbarah immersed herself in her new community. She joined a choir, volunteered as a director of a non-profit society and attended community celebrations, events and workshops. Barbarah has a very outgoing personality and she’ll strike up a conversation with anyone. She made a wonderful connection with a woman just through sitting next to her on an airplane and engaging in conversation. This woman became her best friend. After only a few months in her new community, Barbarah knew many people. When Zackery made the move, Barbarah focused on his transition to a new school. Once he settled in school, her priority became supporting Zackery to develop relationships in the community. She took a correspondence course on creating social networks offered through Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network to learn more about creating a network for Zackery. Barbarah hired a network facilitator for one time only to make the initial calls inviting people to an open house gathering in her home. Zackery’s social network blossomed from there.
Barbarah is very intentional about making events in her home lively and fun, as a way to draw people in and encourage them to remain in their lives. There is often music, food and a festive atmosphere. When people first started visiting their home, Zackery would choose to stay in his bedroom. Eventually he began to move closer to the activities, lingering in the doorway of his room or venturing into the hallway. Little by little, Zackery has become more comfortable in the social atmosphere. At the most recent social gathering celebrating his birthday and Christmas, Zackery spent the majority of his time sitting with people in the same room or in the adjacent room. When it came time to open his birthday gifts, Zackery sat in the circle with everyone. After carefully opening each gift, he proudly walked around the room showing the item to his guests. Barbarah says Zackery often shows his gratitude by gazing into a person’s eyes and smiling. It’s been several years since the first gathering and Zackery now has many friends and acquaintances in his life. Some people share their time through reading, creating art and doing crafts with Zackery, others bring over his favourite foods to share. There are friends who attend every gathering and others who come by only one time or for one specific activity. People also connect Barbarah to others. One relationship becomes a springboard to another.
Barbarah shared a beautiful story of one man, Bob, who was drawn to Zackery at the swimming pool. The pool can be a challenging environment for Zackery, but Bob made a miraculous connection with him. One day, Bob said, “Zackery, I’ll teach you to swim.” Bob showed up at the pool the same time as Barbarah and Zackery for several weeks. He developed a special connection with Zackery, taught him basic swimming skills, and then they didn’t see him again. Even though Bob didn’t stay in touch, he played a very important role for the brief time he was in Zackery’s life.
When Barbarah and Zackery moved to their new community, they were alone – without family or friends. Through Barbarah’s persistence, wisdom and courage to open her home, other people have opened their hearts. A web of kindness, caring and support has been woven around both Zackery and Barbarah. Their home has become a special place where a diverse group of people can share and enjoy each other’s gifts and contributions. Everyone’s lives are richer for it.
You can learn more about Barbarah and Zackery in a new video called “Building Personal Support Networks: Barbarah and Zackery’s Story”.
The video can be viewed on CLBC’s Youtube channel by visiting www.youtube.com/communitylivingbc.