This blog is a way for you to get to know me, and understand my passion for home care and the disability community. My hope is that my story will inspire more people to do this work that has shaped my world and added such richness.
In the fall of 1981 I returned to my hometown of Berkeley to study graphic arts. My good friend from high school had taken courses at Laney and was now making ten dollars an hour! I was making less than four selling coffee beans in Harvard Square, and had, since I was a toddler, always loved playing with words and letters. My work experience to this point had been strictly retail and food service. I had landed a spot in a CETA program where I learned the graphics trade from concept to finished product. I could write a whole story about this program, run by Mildred Howard. It changed me.
But this story is about how I came to be in the field that has completely molded my life and given it the meaning that I have such pride in. I am so grateful to have discovered this one ad in the Daily Californian that ended with “no experience necessary” which truly were the words that encouraged me to apply at the attendant referral program at what was then called PDSP: the UC Disabled Students’ Program. The P stood for physical, which was dropped when more services for students with learning and other hidden disabilities were provided. At this time, the majority of students that DSP serves are in this category. I remember clearly going to an interview at the old house on Channing Way that housed the program, walking down that driveway, past the shop where guys in wheelchairs were sunning themselves while Marc Krizack and Paul McBride where changing belts, fixing flats, or installing those little gizmos that allowed them to empty their legbags with a toggle switch (brilliant!). I walked up the ramp and into the building where I was greeted by a large friendly Black woman at the front desk. She gave me a one-page application to fill out. A cheery but down to earth woman not much older than myself, Brenda Farmer, called me to a room where we sat at a desk and she asked me about my interests and my availability. She explained the kinds of needs that the students have, and determined if I was comfortable with these. She assured me that the students themselves would provide training and that if I was uncomfortable with any of these tasks, there were other students with other needs. My name would be given to students she or her partner Bill Blanchard thought I would be suitable for, based on my experience or lack thereof, my geography and mode of transportation (bicycle), and to some extent, my personality.
The first interview I went on scared the heck out of me. The guy was drooling and I could barely understand him. I ran home and called Brenda. The next client she referred me to was a young woman with a spinal cord injury, Jenni Wisser, who had pretty blonde hair and spoke clearly and described her needs succinctly. She needed me to transfer her from her wheelchair to her bed, undress her, switch her leg bag to her night bag, and tuck her in. I can’t remember if anyone actually showed me how to do the transfer or if she just talked me through it, but it was never an issue. A few months later I got another client through word of mouth. I wasn’t really looking, but a neighbor of a friend of a friend who happened to live a block away from me needed just an hour a week. His name is Paul Spragens and his disability rendered his arms and hands useless but he did amazing things with his feet. About the only thing he couldn’t do was clean and shave himself, which – being the hermit he was – was only necessary once a week as far as he was concerned. He paid out of pocket, so the five or six dollars he gave me was all he could afford. I worked for him for several years until he relocated to Wyoming. I worked for Jenni for the rest of the school year, and when she went home for the summer, I had just completed my CETA program and had a finished product: a poster recruiting attendants for PDSP.
Next: Meeting CeCe Weeks: the adventure begins!