A Day Program Without Walls

A beautiful fall day, colors exploding all around us as Joel and I drive through the sleepy college town of Oxford, Ohio.

I'm lost in thoughts about the “day program without walls” we're building for Joel, when Joel’s voice interrupts the anxious flow of what I'm thinking.

“Look! The trees are falling!”

I'm too immersed in thoughts of what seems like an impossibility to go through the whole drill—the difference between trees and leaves - so I simply answer, “Leaves, Joel. The leaves are falling.”

“The leaves are falling,” he answers, his voice dreamy. He’s in the backseat, but I can tell without looking that he’s really enjoying the sight of leaves floating toward the ground.

Fall is my favorite season. I love the colors, the falling leaves, the fragrances, the foods, the brisk breezes.

But this year it truly does feel as if the trees are falling.

Joel’s day program, run by Butler County, is closing in two weeks.

CMS, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, mandated in March of 2016 that federal Medicaid funds can no longer be used to pay for services that occur in settings that isolate people with developmental disabilities. CMS has also mandated that the same organizations can no longer provide case management and  services to the developmentally disabled, because that would be a conflict of interest. Private providers have already begun offering services.

All state and county boards across the country must be in compliance with this sweeping mandate by March 17, 2019.

County boards everywhere are scrambling to find services for those people now receiving day services in county-run programs.

Unfortunately, Butler County of southwest Ohio, where Joel receives his services, made the decision to come into compliance with CMS’s ruling within one year instead of the three years granted. They announced in March of 2016 that Liberty Center, where Joel (and over 100 other individuals with various disabilities) spend 6 hours each day, would close its doors by March of 2017.

That plan backfired when most of Liberty Center’s staff quickly made a mass exodus to find other jobs, forcing parents to make fast and often uninformed decisions regarding the best places for their adult children to spend their days in meaningful work and recreation.

Because of staff shrinkage, the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities recently voted to close Liberty Center on November 10, 2016, just seven months after the CMS mandate came down. When they were given three years to make the transition.

Go figure.

Yes, Joel, the trees are falling. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Winds are whipping down from on high, with no regard for damage on the ground. Some days I am so angry I can’t think straight.

I can’t live in this space of anger for long. Yes, there’s such a thing as righteous anger, but it’s toxic if not dealt with immediately.

So, what does a parent do? What do I do?

I keep my eyes on the Artist who, every year, colors the trees in brilliant reds and golds;  Who tinges the bottom of autumn clouds with soft shades of lavender.

I keep my eyes on the Creator who crafted my son to be 100% unique; who has a plan - a very good plan—for his life.

I keep my eyes on the Holy Spirit, who constantly floods my being - Joel's being - with living waters of creativity.

And so, with Joel’s team, my husband and I have been creating a day program without walls. Joel has been given the gift of three vending machines of which he will be in charge. He will clean his dad’s office twice a week. Three days a week he will collect donations at the local Family Resource center (we hope…working on this one right now). Two days a week he will stock shelves at the local food pantry (again, we hope…still working on this one). There is a possibility he will volunteer at the local retirement community.

As we work to make these job and volunteer options line up into a coherent schedule for Joel, I begin to enjoy, once again, the dance of the leaves falling to the ground. It will be good for Joel to be out in the community. He will form relationships with a wide variety of people in Oxford; people he will see at Kroger, church, the Rec Center, Chipotle and Bob Evans. Joel is a relationship kind of a guy. It just takes him time to build those relationships.

There is one big tree still teetering at the edge of my consciousness.

Staff. One or two good staff who are compatible with Joel. As I said, Joel is a relationship kind of guy. It takes him a long time to make a relationship. We don’t have a long time. We have two more weeks.

Oh Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, Maker of all that is good, we call on your supernatural power to intervene and bring us a man of God with a good sense of humor, a laid back personality, and the patience of a saint.

Joel’s voice echoes in my mind as I write this post.

“Look Mom, the trees are falling.”

“No, Joel, The leaves are falling. Aren’t they beautiful?”

What trees are in danger of falling in your life today? What anxious thoughts fill your mind and heart? Turn your eyes toward our amazing Maker; Creator of autumn colors, black and white striped zebras, lumbering elephants, waddling penguins. His creative genius flows through your body, mind, and spirit, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Breathe in the very staff of life. We are co-creators with God. Let God lead you in creating something new and beautiful.

Please check out my new website (thanks to Sarah Broady, who also writes for this site!): www.kathleenbolduc.com