A single ripe tomato sits on the windowsill of Rosemary Poe’s ground-floor apartment.

To most people, the fruit only represents the summer bounty still to come. But to Rosemary, the tomato is a symbol of the choice and possibility she has found since she came into the care of ADEC.

Rosemary was skeptical when she first came into contact with someone from ADEC in 1984. She remembers cowering in the corner of a room in a home owned by Jill, who was a group leader for ADEC at the time.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Rosemary recalled. “I was scared and I thought I was in trouble.”

It was a police officer who dropped Rosemary off at Jill’s apartment, rescuing her from an abusive home. Her father had been abusing her – emotionally, physically and sexually – since her childhood.

Even when Rosemary was injured from helping her dad with scrapping work – moving heavy machinery and stripping it down with a sledgehammer – he would not take Rosemary to see a doctor.

Once, when Rosemary attempted suicide to escape the abuse, her father made her suffer through the overdose by herself.

“Dad was hurting me in every way he could, through every abuse there was,” she said. “He kept me locked in that house. It was like a prison. He told me that I could never come back home if I ever left.”

But once the police intervened, Jill and others at ADEC worked tirelessly to make sure Rosemary knew she was finally safe and free. ADEC petitioned to be Rosemary’s legal guardian and has protected her and acted as her advocate for more than 30 years.

Rosemary was one of the first individuals to be served by ADEC’s corporate guardianship program, which serves more than 60 individuals by helping them with personal decisions, advocating for them and protecting them.

“Without ADEC, I would still be in the same hellhole I was born into,” she said. “I’m happy now.”

She’s happy because she can finally grow her own tomatoes on the patio of her apartment – something she only dreamed about for many years. ADEC helped make that possible by connecting Rosemary with the care and resources she needs and deserves.

She’s happy when she crochets colorful blankets at home or meets with friends every Tuesday to knit and talk.

And she is happy because no one is trying to hurt her or steal her money any more. It’s a very real fear for Rosemary and others with disabilities. Studies show that they are four to ten times more likely to be abused than those without disabilities.

That is part of the reason ADEC’s guardianship program is so important – in its 30-year history, the program has rescued dozens of individuals from situations similar to Rosemary’s. Yet the program is one of a few administered through ADEC that receives no federal or state funding. Additionally, about 15 percent of the individuals who receive guardianship services receive no other services from ADEC.

Still, ADEC remains committed to making sure each guardianship client finds A Life of Their Own, Dignity, Employment and Community – the four core values that guide everything ADEC does. And that means a lot to people like Rosemary.

Each week, Tobi Weirich, Rosemary’s guardian advocate, visits her in her apartment to make sure she is receiving the medical care she needs, her home is safe and clean and her finances are being properly handled.

“I don’t have anybody beating me up anymore, or anybody trying to hurt me,” Rosemary said. “Plus I get to go to the doctor when I’m sick. It feels so good to make my own decisions.”

Rosemary said she hopes that by sharing her story, she may be able to reach and help someone who is experiencing abuse like she did during her childhood.

For more information on ADEC’s guardianship program or to learn more about the legal process behind guardianship, contact Sara Kealy at [email protected].