Saturday, July 24, 2004

Settled in at last ...

This week brought some finalty to the state of indecision that has plagued me for several months. I've accepted the NPS position, as an emergency hire for the next 60 days, then we'll see. By that time I will either have bombed totally, or, they will find me especially suited to the work and will ask me to stay on.

Budget considerations prevents Mayor Anderson from replacing the Aides position until January. That would have been the better choice since it would have fulfilled my retirement requirements, but I really do need to be earning my living and the NPS offers new areas of learning and some financial security, though I will surely not find myself in the Fortune 500 on this salary.

My duties will mostly involve outreach to the city, the partners, our congressional rep, and state (Loni Hancock), plus some duties involving the creation and maintenance of an NPS library of studies, documents, and other materials that will support the work of this National Park and its staff. Do I know anything about setting up libraries? Nope. Can I learn? Most assuredly. Besides, there's a young Ranger (woman) who serves as the staff technie and who has an aunt and mother who were library specialists. You got it. I work for a while at Elizabeth's elbow and absorb by osmosis enough to do the job. Will spend the next sixty days developing the "pegs" in my head upon which I will begin to hang new knowledge.

The outreach and public relations portion of the job will be transferrable from past work history. Got lots of "pegs" to take care of that, and much of that history and experience was acquired over the past five years right here in this county -- so should serve me well.

So much to write about. So little time ... .

Here in Richmond, as in a growing number of cities, city council meetings are televised on the cable access channel. Tuesday night viewing has become a ritual. This was the way I kept up with the city's concerns and struggles over the years for the purpose of keeping abreast for my work. The county, school board, state assembly and senate, plus the CSPAN coverage of federal goings-on make for an informed electorate. I took advantage of every chance to hold my (virtual) seats in every one of these chambers over the years, and have found the opportunity invaluable. Having a chance to be a fly on the wall of congressional hearings that come to us without comment is the greatest gift to the democracy that one can imagine. I often wonder how many citizens take full advantage of this window into the machinations of law-making?

That is a prelude to something presented this past week before council that more than peaked my interest:

There is a program for the developmentally disabled that has been maintained by the city to the tune of $150,000/annually. Along with many other programs under the recreation department's supervision, it is facing termination in another month or so. The parents have been petitioning the council for several weeks, coming to the podium with their disabled youngsters in tow to speak haltingly on the mike and to the unseen public as well. It has been heart-rending to see.

This is a population that was one of my areas of responsibility when I worked for Loni. I attended many a meeting with the developmentally disabled community, the professionals who work with clients and families, and know them to be some of the most dedicated people on the planet. They work with a fierce dedication that is almost unequalled. I know because I'm one of them.

The director of NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities) was there at the mike presenting one possible answer to the city's dilemma. It was clear that there was not the heart to cut this program if any possibility remained to save it. Pat was proposing that the participants in the city's program be folded into NIAD, but what she would need would be that the city provide a van or bus for transportation, and enough subsidy to make their inclusion financially practical to NIAD. It was a generous offer.

Over the course of the evening's discussion, however, I learned that the city's program involved only 10 clients at the cost of $10,000/annually each. And, that many of those being served were not residents of the city. Plus, that there is a waiting list of 45 who cannot be served for lack of resources and space.

Thought about Dorian. And about NIAD. Something was amiss here... .

Dorrie's 5 hours-a-day 5 days-a-week NIAD involvement costs me not a cent. Her education and training that has involved several years at The Cedars in Marin County, later with 5 years at St. Vincents in Santa Barbara, and all of the years since with supportive living services at Clausen House in Oakland have come from her Lanterman Act entitlements. The State of California through Lanterman assumed financial responsibility for her as an individual since childhood. She has always been in preparation for life without me, and, my role has been to be her initial referral source -- always to guide her toward some external resource to satisfy her needs. It may be rough, but she'll survive without me one day. Her world has been made up of social workers, case managers, psychologists, job coaches, athletic coaches, and now painters and sculptors and textile workers and weavers, and her vocabulary has grown to accommodate all of it.

What was the difference?

I watched the worried parents on the screen -- knowing how desparately they needed the respite from caretaking. Saw the genuine concern on the faces of the city elected officials behind those desks -- finding it so difficult to hold to their budgetary restrictions (perhaps a deficit of $38,000,000)in the face of this human tragedy. Most of the community centers and afterschool programs serving "normal" kids have been closed. The library has seen unprecedented cutbacks in services and staff. Yes, they voted to find $75,000 "somewhere" to keep this program afloat until at least the first of the year. "We'll have to take the money from other programs, but we'll find it somewhere." So sad. (And again I find myself hating presidential policy that has caused so much death and destruction to so many lives and that continue to rob cities of the revenues needed to survive.)

Then I started to wonder why all of those being served by the city's program were not clients of the Regional Centers? Did those parents know of those entitlements? Could it be? Was the city providing services that were redundant? Did they realize that NIAD is a nonprofit that is supported by a clientele that is fully supported by the Lanterman Act through the Regional Centers?

It was at this point that I realized that I've had a life-long attitude that it was I who was helping the state to take care of my daughter, not the other way around. The state was not helping ME to take care of her. She had a citizen's rights as one hopelessly disabled. Devoting my efforts to teaching her how to exercise those rights was my role -- as I saw it. She has received Social Security and MediCal since childhood, as a disabled person. That's a huge liability lifted from the family. She is still developmentally disabled, but she has been maximized in every way possible, I believe.

Do I assume that other parents know about the Lanterman Act? Do the city officials? I dropped an email to Councilman Gary Bell the next morning, telling him to research that Act and the web site of the Regional Center of the East Bay. I sometimes feel reticent to nudge people this way, I really don't know the councilpersons all that well, personally, but in this case it felt like the right thing to do. There are two others I probably should approach before the discussion goes too much further, Councilpersons Tom Butt and Mindell Penn, that may take care of it.

I offered through Bell to meet with the parent group from the city program. The council voted to turn down the NIAD offer, by the way, in favor of continuing the status quo. I'd love to check to see if families are fully aware of the available state resources. I may be being foolish. They may be as aware as I am, but have chosen another way to deal with their situations. But it couldn't hurt to check it out, right?

Cuddn' hoit, right?

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