Along for the Ride: What a Learning!

A Tema rod3

So I have this story in my head that’s been rolling around for a week now. The need to share it surfaced, and I got this bright idea.  How about share it with the Directors Team while they are about to spend the weekend working hard on the future of UNITI? You guys do enough hard work that I thought a story to make you smile would complement the weekend of work ahead of you all.

Over a week ago, I had the privilege of being invited on a ride along with Jasper and the guys.  I had a fleeting wonder of the intention of my invitation, but easily let the thoughts drift off and just got ready to enjoy my day.

The day was full of wonders. Being there to enjoy a day in the life of the guys and be witness to their experiences could produce many stories, but there is one story that stands out.

It is the story of learning people’s stories.  It is the story of relationships.  Throughout the entire day, Jasper and each of the guys told me stories of everywhere we went, everything we did and everyone we met.

First stop: the back alley of IHOP to find the manager Debbie while she was on her smoke break, and she was.  We pulled up beside her. She smiled, opened her arms and said, “Hey guys I’ve missed you!”  I stepped back to listen to the conversation. Everyone was chatting, filling each other in with what they had been up to in their lives. The chitchat wrapped up with hugs for everyone. “Get back here and see me real soon. I love you guys!” were Debbie’s departing words.

Second stop: MacDonald’s in Langley on Fraser Highway. Picture the long table with bar seats in the middle of the restaurant with four other people (strangers to me) sitting there with a handful of empty seats.  They were obviously waiting for someone.  Yup! They were waiting for Jasper and the guys, who comfortably took their seats.

After introductions, I got cozy and again tried to sit back, watch and listen.  Though it wasn’t easy as I was dragged into a bunch of random conversations.

Rod, a semi-retired gentleman, immediately began razzing and joking with Gary with their obvious inside banter.  I have known Gary since 1991 and have never seen him smile and laugh like he did with Rod–ever.  FYI, Rod was invited by the guys to the Semiahmoo House Society’s this year… and he came.

Bill, the elder musician, shuffled his way throughout his friends, with nods, mumbles and a couple of stories.

Jodie, a young lady with a disability, quietly filled us all in about her week and the Canucks’ recent game.

Lyn, Jodie’s support worker, shared stories and pictures of her dog.

Then, there were the three MacDonald’s staff (can’t remember their names).

Staff #1 flopped herself down beside the group. She was having a bad day and was reassured and comforted by her friends.

Staff #2 whispered something into Jasper’s ear as she was worried about one of the guys.  She had his back!

Staff #3 joyfully bounced to the table so happy to see everyone, and more chitchat about life began.

What unfolded after this initial gathering of friends I wasn’t prepared for: the learning about the deepness and richness of these friendships that all began at the long table in MacDonald’s on Fraser Highway.

According to Lyn, Jodie never had friends and barely spoke to people until she met this group of friends. Hanging with these friends at MacDonald’s for morning coffee is now one of the most important parts of her week.

Rod told me that Jasper and the guys have brought so much joy to his life.

The concern and questions about people who weren’t there. Where are they?  Are they okay?

How much they all knew about each other. How much they cared about what was happening in their personal lives.

This was not about people in the community making the lives of people with disabilities better. It was not about people with disabilities contributing to the lives of the people they meet.  It was about natural, genuine relationships among people finding space to come together and be together on a regular basis, in the same place, with the same people.

I could go on and on about with this story, but I think you get the picture.

It is profoundly critical that the work we do mindfully creates opportunities for people to have these kind of relationships in their lives.  Which brings me to Jasper.

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As David Pitonyak said, “It’s about who shows up in people’s lives not who’s on shift.”  Who is attentive, aware and present.  And who is real.  These awesome MacDonald’s relationships did not develop on their own out of thin air. They were fostered by Jasper–he may not agree.  I believe he was hypervigilant to the opportunities to build connections, his radar always on.  Every day he walked into that MacDonald’s, he was intentional about how he could bring people together and then stepped back to allow natural friendships to flourish.  And he keep going back.

There are joys and also fears about this story. The joys are obvious I think, but the fears are real.

Can you imagine if the guys were told, “You can’t go there anymore because it’s too far. Go to a closer MacDonald’s from now on.”

Can you imagine if the guys were told, “Hey, you now have these friends in your life. So, you’re on your own to maintain them. No need for paid support anymore.” When in reality the support to maintain these relationships is critical, for a variety of reasons.

Can you imagine if the guys were told, “This is no longer part of your program, so it won’t be happening anymore.”

I was left with these can you imagines and the frightening impact systems can have on people. We know this. We fight for this, but to see and experience it was a whole different story.

There! My story is no longer rolling around in my head. I know through more thought and reflection I could share much more of what I learned that day.

I am grateful to Jasper and the guys for inviting me into their world for a day.  It has reinforced what I believe and what I believe UNITI believes.

Cheers!  And enjoy the weekend.

Nolda Ware, Manager of Person-Centred Practices

UNITI is a partnership of three affiliates: Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and The Semiahmoo Foundation. For more information, go to www.uniti4all.com.

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