By Heather Scott, Admissions Counselor
Recently, Rainbow Acres experienced a window of time when we could accept new residents during the pandemic. In October, we admitted four residents, one per week. As an admissions counselor, it is my role to respond to inquiries from families regarding the possibility of choosing Rainbow Acres.
Throughout that process, much information is gathered to assist in making this big decision. After all, this is not a casual choice – in fact, it is life-altering, wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. Most potential residents have lived at home their whole lives, and are making their biggest change to-date.
One of the many challenges during the pandemic is the fact that we have to communicate virtually rather than meet in-person. Throughout this process, we have to picture the person living here, set them up for a successful transition, and connect them with the right home, housemates, and activities. Despite our best efforts, there always is some uncertainty as to whether the new living arrangement will work, especially when we haven’t been able to meet the prospective resident in person.
This was true for Lily.
Four years ago, Lily’s mother toured Rainbow Acres and had kept in touch to ensure the possibility was still there. Phone calls were made back and forth. The Admissions staff had some hesitancy due to Lily’s prior experiences, her needs, and the fact that she’s non-verbal. Lily uses a “talker” iPad to communicate with others. However, one comment from Lily’s mother really stuck with us. When asked whether she saw Lily being successful at Rainbow Acres, she said, “You know … Lily learns.”
The virtual interview when we first met Lily melted our hearts (both mine and that of Admissions Director Jen Murphree). We could see Lily’s potential for becoming an active member of the Rainbow Acres community. We saw her strengths and the incredible investment that her family had made in her. Would other Rainbow staff members see these same qualities in their virtual interview with her?
Fortunately, they did!
Imagine a mother having to state (during a virtual interview with a group of people) that “when Lily was 13 years old, I realized I could not take her all the way … that I would need to find the right place for her when she turned 18” (with tears now streaming from all of our eyes). After the interview, when we called to let her mother know that Lily had been accepted for admission, we felt the response. Her relief and joy after waiting those four years – wondering, hoping, praying – became reality.
Move-in day for Lily included creating a “dorm room” for her to go to “college.” Lily’s room was so comfy and full of soft fluffy things that leaving the room was difficult … for the staff! Mom waited with bated breath to hear how Lily was doing daily, trying not to be “a hovering, helicopter parent.” Her courage, honesty and love for her daughter are qualities that all of us have admired.
In the following weeks, we started with staff escorting Lily to her classes and activities, then she went with housemates and friends, to now being able to go independently to/from the buildings for classes. This transition would not have been successful without all of the pre-arrival work done by her mother for many years, and the incredible caregivers who are committed to “learning Lily” (learning about her and how to bring out the best in her at all times). Now, when the staff talks about Lily, they put their hand on their heart, get a tear in their eye, and say, “Oh … that Lily.”
Lily’s smile and laughter are contagious. She has now stolen all of our hearts – housemates, caregivers and educators alike. She will gladly let you do the work for her, but if you wait her out, she will usually follow the lead and imitate your actions. She has gone from not feeling comfortable setting foot in the barn or touching an animal, to scooping up “horse apples” with a shovel and taking them to their “resting place” as fertilizer for the greenhouses. She even grooms our mini-horse, Crystal. Wow!
As part of our admissions process, we ask references to answer questions about the applicant. In Lily’s case, their responses said it all. When asked about Lily’s potential contributions to the quality of life of the community at Rainbow Acres, their responses included: “Loyalty, friendship and a desire to grow as a person” and “Much happiness and love.” When asked about Lily’s strengths, talents and abilities, one person commented: “Her abilities are limitless with patience and love.”
And … Lily learns! Isn’t that true for all of us? Everyone is unique and has their own way of learning and growing. As a staff, we had to learn how Lily learns to help her continue her growth into adulthood. And it’s so satisfying to see how quickly Lily has become active in her new home!