The Wonders of Misericordia

by Linda Buchalo

This past year has given me much time to think about a lot of things, among them how truly blessed I am to have found a home for my son Andy at Misericordia. I’ve also thought a lot about the past, including life before Mis, with school staffings and services from other organizations. As I ponder these memories, I think how much better life is for Andy now, despite the pandemic and all its restrictions.

I’ve come to appreciate even more how different Misericordia is from many other organizations that offer services for people with disabilities. And other parents have shared with me how pleasantly surprised they were in making the transition to life at Misericordia.

As I think back to the days of Andy being in school, I remember good times, but I also remember the torture of staffings—my husband and I facing a panel of “experts” who listed all the areas where our child was deficient. I always walked away feeling sad that no one appreciated my son’s abilities.

I also have bittersweet memories of other pre-Mis experiences: a job coach who told Andy that he should be his own guardian. My response to this was “Andy would not need job coaching if he were that capable.” And a special recreation association that did not allow Andy to travel to a Special Olympics state competition with his teammates because he could not tie his own shoes and needed someone to make sure that the shower temperature was not too hot or too cold. Instead, he traveled with me and stayed in my motel room. Again, there were many good times and I have fond memories of those, but there was always an underlying feeling that I needed to be there with him every step of the way.

After Andy moved to Misericordia, I steeled myself for his first staffing and walked away deliriously happy. These people get it. They love Andy for who he is and celebrate all his finer qualities. They set up reasonable goals and there is no grading system. My input is not only expected but valued.

At Misericordia, the emphasis is on abilities and Andy has been given many opportunities that he would never have had in a different environment. With the help of skilled artisans, he has become an artist, making beautiful pottery, something that was beyond my wildest dreams. Andy’s primary love is music, and he has been able to expand on that—singing with the Heartzingers, DJ-ing dances for his friends, and even finding a volunteer opportunity centered around music.

While the current trend is to move people with disabilities into the larger community, Andy now lives far more independently on the Misericordia campus than he did at home. Because of the level of supervision and an environment geared to special needs, he can travel independently from his home to various sites on campus for work opportunities, sports, and social events. His days are filled with fun activities, and there are many choices, enabling him to decide what he’d like to do. Andy has the support of staff and also of his friends. The culture at Misericordia is one of caring, kindness, and acceptance, and it is utterly amazing to watch as new residents are embraced into the fold. Other residents serve as mentors and there are parties and other ways in which new residents are made to feel welcome.

While I am and always will be a hands-on parent, I don’t leave Misericordia after a visit hoping that Andy will be okay. I know that someone is always there for him, that he is happy, and that there are people he can go to no matter what comes up. I know that he’ll be encouraged to try new things, participate in a variety of activities, and do his best. How much more effective it is to motivate with praise—and this is the way at Mis.

As a parent, I’ve found this past year and a half to be difficult, not being able to see my son regularly and often only when masked and socially distant. It is the first time in his life that Andy has been away from me for that long. It’s clear, though, that this has been much harder on me than on him. The amazingly resilient staff have risen to the occasion, going above and beyond to make life as close to normal as possible, filling in for family gatherings at holidays and over summer vacation. While most of us have been feeling the stress of turbulent times, the residents in my son’s cohort have been busy doing artwork, learning French, working at office skills, having parties, planning healthy drinks and snacks, singing, taking virtual tours, and much more.

So, while difficult, this time has also shown me that Andy will thrive even after I am no longer around and that is a very comforting thought.