A New Home, and a Changed Life
The trailer was filled with memories, but also with rodents. It was dilapidated; the bathroom floor was on the verge of collapse, and it was difficult to keep clean, particularly for the wheelchair-bound man who was living there on his own. And yet, he couldn’t even think of a life somewhere else when this was the place he and his family had called home for so long.
Doug, 58, lived with his mom in a small trailer park in Eau Claire. When she passed away several years ago, he was on his own, struggling to keep up the home and care for himself. It was in such deplorable shape that other family members had stopped visiting. That is where our staff members, Robin Weinhold and Camille Stelzer, stepped in and changed a life.
Help With Daily Living Needs
Robin began working with Doug in 2011, as part of the Individualized Community Supports program. She traveled to the trailer park each week to do cleaning and cooking for Doug, leaving him meals that he would heat in the microwave. Born with cerebral palsy and cognitive disabilities, Doug had a long-time job at the L.E. Phillips Career Development Center in Eau Claire, and was a very strong worker. But when he returned to the silence of his home at night, he would most often be alone with the television, his cigarettes, and little else. Complicating things, Doug had fallen and suffered two broken legs a few years earlier, and the pins and plates that were inserted made it difficult for him to walk or navigate stairs, so he relied on a wheelchair.
“Doug has been with our program for a long time,” said Robin. “He’s a teaser, and he often tells me if he didn’t give me a hard time when I come, I might think he’s sick, and call the doctor!”
Doug’s personality as well as his ties to the family home made him resistant to any talk of moving, but Robin began to gently broach the topic in her weekly visits.
“I started talking to him about the conditions in his trailer and sharing the positive things that could happen if he moved. We talked about a place that would have greater accessibility, where he could be a part of his community, and also improve his safety.”
Doug Finds a New Home in Chippewa Falls
It took six months of conversation before Doug agreed to consider moving and then another two years to find the right apartment for him. The pair spent many days visiting different apartments. Some were too expensive. Others were affordable but had stairs leading to the laundry room. Still others wouldn’t accept him because of a history of problems from more than 30 years earlier.
They finally found an apartment that was a good fit in Chippewa Falls. He moved there on April 1, 2014, but the moving process began in February. Camille joined Robin in helping Doug go through the things that he would take with him to the one-bedroom apartment.
“At the end of February, we started packing with Doug,” Robin remembered. “I knew some things were really important to him, so we packed those special things together. On the day of the move, there were tears. He was scared. The first week, he kept to himself, so we spent time with him, moving things, cleaning and putting things where he wanted them.”
However, it wasn’t long before his neighbors took him under their wing, and opened up his world in exciting new ways.
“He is close to so many things. He goes to the nearby Burger King for their car shows, to local bars for karaoke, and his bank is right across the street,” explained Robin.
“Doug loves having his clean apartment. Before, his house was so worn down that family didn’t come to see him, but his brother helped him move into the apartment, and now, his aunt, who lives nearby, comes to see him. He is just so happy!”
Robin and Camille still provide support to Doug: Robin cooks and cleans, and Camille takes him grocery shopping every week.
“I used to cook five to seven meals each week, but now it’s much less. Sometimes he eats a community meal at the local church with other people he’s met. Or, he calls ahead to the local bar and orders a hot beef sandwich, and they know him and have it waiting for him. It’s so cool!”
New dentures? Check. Next on the list? A New Wheelchair
Other services the women provide to Doug include coordinating his medical appointments and transportation, and helping him with the paperwork to renew different benefits he receives. Several years ago, Doug had to have his teeth removed, and his managed care worker didn’t feel he would care for dentures properly, so she wouldn’t authorize them. Robin fought to have them approved by offering to care for them herself. She found a dentist at the Chippewa Dental College who created the dentures, and he got them last year in time to show his smile at our Christmas party! Robin proudly shares that he takes really good care of them, without her help!
Currently, she is working to help Doug acquire a motorized wheelchair or one that is a smaller, better size for him.
For Robin, it’s been an amazing experience to watch how Doug has blossomed in his new home.
“I am overjoyed for him. He is one of my favorite people,” said Robin. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years with LSS, and it’s the little things that make it all worth it. I just love what I do!”
Would you, too, like to be part of changing a life? Find out how you can get involved.