When the founders of Wall Residences, Jack Wall and Kamala Bauers, brought their vision of supporting individuals with disabilities to Floyd County in 1995, my husband, Joe and I, pooled our collective skills in human resources and joined their network of foster care families.
For over 8 years we provided foster care in our home for an individual with developmental disabilities. When it came time to retire from full-time foster care in the spring of 2005, we spent a year assisting our housemate, John, to make a gradual transition to another family home. With the help of the Wall community and his biological family, John was able to choose a new living situation after visiting his prospective new home in graduated steps and lengths of time.
Because John continues to live in Floyd, where he has friends, meaningful activities to take part in, and where many townspeople know him by name, Joe and I have been able to maintain an ongoing relationship with him. Sometimes he comes to spend a weekend. Recently he called on the phone to invite us to the Wall Residences’ Christmas Party at the Zion Lutheran Church on December 3rd.
“Can you bring a cake?” he asked excitedly, remembering that my husband Joe’s birthday is December 3rd.
“We’ll do our best to come,” I told him before hanging up.
In past years, a Wall Residence party has been a regular activity on our Christmastime schedule, and some have been elaborate enough to require a printed program of scheduled entertainment. One year a chorus of singers donned in white choir smocks and led by local musician, Bob Grubel, performed a series of Christmas Carols in the Zion Lutheran chapel. Another year, when the party was held at the VFW hall, John dressed in full Santa regalia and passed out candy canes at the door. Later, people took turns on the stage in a show of Christmas-themed talent.
This year having the party on the same day as the town parade made for a full day, and several of us, like me, got stuck in the after-parade traffic and arrived late to the party. When I got there, the room of about 40 were singing … Deck the halls with boughs of holly … fa la la la la … Many had Santa caps on. Because John is visually impaired, his current foster care provider, Karen, nudged him and leaned in to tell him that I was at the door. With an enthusiastic step, he made his way over to greet me. Joe was already there, holding the wrapped birthday present that John had given him while mingling about with friends that he hadn’t seen in awhile.
After more singing, a line full of friends chatting formed by the long table of food. The feast spread out on the red table cloth included turkey, stuffing, green beans and gravy from Slaughters Supermarket, alongside the potluck dishes that families had made. With my plate full of food, I sat across from foster care provider Dick Giessler, in between John and Curtis. Curtis, who lives with Dick, was sporting Virginia Tech clothes with a Special Olympics’ medal prominently displayed around his neck. He was asking Dick when they could go to Angel’s in the Attic again, as Karen and I compared our festive hats and posed for a picture that Dick’s wife Diane was taking. Charlie, who also lives in Floyd, pulled up in his wheel chair to greet me. “Where ya been?” he wanted to know.
There wasn’t cake, but there was pecan pie, and John led the group in singing Happy Birthday to Joe. A book lover who volunteers an hour a week answering the phone at New River Community Action Center, John had purchased a book about golf for my husband. He giggled as he stood over Joe, who was describing the cartoon scenes in the book to him.
“So that’s your birthday party this year,” I said to my husband as the party wound down and we were putting on our coats to leave.
“It was great. I really enjoyed myself” he beamed.
“Me too,” I responded. “Not only was it a fun way to celebrate your birthday, but between the parade and the party, I’m beginning to feel the Christmas spirit,” I said.
Post Notes: The above originally appeared in The Floyd Press in December 2006. To learn more about Wall Residences, you can visit their website at wallresidences.com