By Don Wierenga
Something special happened to Erwin last week.
We all strive for an identity, something we are drawn to that makes us unique. We get our identity from those things in life we look forward to the most and find fulfillment in, the things that make us feel good about ourselves. For people with disabilities the challenge to find that identity, that fulfillment is harder than most of us will ever experience. Not only are they trying to find an identity unique to them, they’re also trying to lose the one society puts on them.
For the past eight years I’ve gotten to know Erwin Telgenhoff, one of the people we serve at our Bristol, IN adult day service location. Erwin comes to my office nearly every day where he pulls up a chair to sit and talk and drink coffee.
Before I go further, it should be noted that we offer a wide variety of vocations at our site, such as art, photography, woodshop, sewing and more. Each day we offer activities ranging from exercise groups to formal meetings. The people we serve may choose from more than 15 daily vocational, recreational or social activities.
Erwin doesn’t fit perfectly anywhere in these vocations or activities. He enjoys several of them, but they aren’t what drives him. Erwin is an administrator at heart. He loves his desk, his papers and his calendar. Some might call it an obsession, but office work – administrating — is Erwin’s passion, his identity.
Here’s where the story gets good: in the process of expanding our facility, moving our woodshop to a more industrial location, we cleared out an office just off the shop floor. Originally we had planned to let our Direct Support Professional use this office. However, the DSP for the woodshop, Bryce Williams, saw an opportunity. He generously offered the space to Erwin. When Bryce showed Erwin the office, we could feel Erwin’s excitement, it radiated from him, as he visualized what he was about to get.
We’ve all encountered moments signaling the next step in life. It could be moving to a new place to live, buying a new car, celebrating the birth of a child, graduating from school or getting a promotion at work. I just wonder, is that what this has been for Erwin? He just got something that makes him more excited to come to every morning, something that gives him a feeling of importance and worth.
If this is something we strive for personally, then isn’t it our responsibility to do what Bryce did and create opportunities for people who may not have the power or advantage we have?
I’m happy to say that Erwin doesn’t visit me as much in my office; he stops by and invites me to his.