The movie It’s a Wonderful Life is typically associated with Christmas, but people make connections to it year round – like me, right now! Perhaps you remember the funny scene where a grumpy old man on a porch asks George Bailey why he’s talking to Mary instead of kissing her. With a pipe in one hand and a newspaper in the other, clearly frustrated, the old man exclaims, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!” It’s a funny line, especially when you consider how precious and fleeting youth truly is.
Childhood should be the best part of our lives, full of fun and learning and few cares, but in Patty’s case you have to wonder if things are rather reversed. Patty, who is 63 years old, spends some of her days at CHD Hawthorn Elder Care in West Springfield. This is one of three CHD locations which provide a clinically supervised social setting during the day for adults facing challenges associated with intellectual disabilities, Alzheimer’s, dementia and other conditions.
Patty is a woman with developmental and physical disabilities enjoying the twilight of life, but I learned that she spent much of her youth with a mother who cared little about her. When Patty wasn’t “in the system” for the developmentally disabled, she was at home, in her room, alone. Patty will tell you about a brief, happy time when she moved in with her grandmother who was more attentive to her special needs, but shortly after, grandma passed away.
About that time, Patty met Donna and Paul Gourinski. In addition to their biological child and a foster child they adopted, over the years Donna and Paul provided a home and family care for a number of foster children. “Patty came into our lives about 13 years ago,” Donna recalls, “when we took her out for a weekend. She was back living with her mother. In those days she hardly talked. She hid in her room. There started to be meetings about what would happen to Patty if her mom got sick. Would she go to a group home? Somewhere else? As plans were being made, her mom did get sick and then passed away.”
Donna and Paul were asked if they’d take care of Patty temporarily, but the long and short of it is they liked Patty and they asked if they could take care of her. By 2004 it was official and Patty has lived with them in foster care ever since.
As in so many successful fostering environments, Donna and Paul accepted Patty as a member of their family. “We just included her in what we did as a family,” Donna explains. Patty has been to Branson, Disney, Florida and on other family vacations. She loves the boardwalk at the beach. Being part of a family, she started talking a lot more. She enjoyed having a dog and a cat at home. She bloomed. Donna says it was incredible to watch how being in a loving family changed her.
Patty has been recovering from some health issues that had her in and out of the hospital the past year, but now that she’s getting back to health she spends some of her days at Hawthorn Elder Care. She loves the activities and the friends she’s making, but she says the best thing that’s happened to her at Hawthorn was seeing her sister. That’s right, Patty’s older sister Alice spends time at Hawthorn, too, although no one on the staff knew the connection. It took two sisters, each with developmental disabilities, to make that connection.
I think it would take a team of detectives and social workers to figure out their family trees exactly, but some digging revealed that these women had the same mother but different fathers and each was “in the system” under her father’s last name. Patty and Alice had been separated as youngsters and had not seen each other for many years until they recognized each other at Hawthorn Elder Care. No matter, now they see each other Tuesdays and Thursdays at Hawthorn where they talk and laugh, do arts and crafts, and enjoy making up for lost time.
Patty is socially engaged, happy, and by her own accounts, enjoying life at 63. She is a long-time Elvis fan and has seen Ray Guillemette, Jr.’s “A-Ray of Elvis” tribute show. She has an Elvis T-shirt and an Elvis baseball cap she turns around backwards. She likes her nails painted bright pink, and whenever they need to be done again, it’s part of her day at Hawthorn.
Spend even a brief time with Patty and you appreciate that a youthful outlook can be part of any stage of life. Patty is a living example of a lesson all of us should live by every day: youth is a state of mind. CHD’s Hawthorn Elder Services helps make that outlook possible in the lives of so many. By giving generously to CHD, you help ensure that the kind of welcoming, caring and inclusive environment that Patty so enjoys, as do so many other adults with developmental disabilities, can continue.
That check in your wallet? Think of it as a pathway to a youthful state of mind. Please give generously to CHD.