A Future Vision of Integrated Supportive Living

Its freezing cold and beginning to snow a bit when the three friends, Jenny, Ben and Luke, pull up to the Peet’s Coffee in downtown Bend, Oregon to celebrate their successful choir rehearsal.  They are also celebrating this extra day. 2048 is a leap year, and today is leap day.  Jenny’s great grand-daughter Charlotte, 8, is along for the ride, and hopefully a chocolate chip cookie. Jenny’s aid Britney does the driving as the roads begin to ice up.

Jenny officially “retired” from teaching Engineering at the U of O Bend campus about 10 years ago, but has continued on in their Wisdom Mentors Program working 20 hours a week helping both students and young professors design and problem-solve, despite her ripe age of 92.  The program encourages professors to keep investing their talents, keep growing, and keep learning.  You learn the most when you are teaching.  The program even has an on-campus supportive housing village of its own. Care assistance is available from either work-study students in the Nursing program, such as Britney, or licensed caregivers.  Jenny began working in the Mentors program as soon as she stopped teaching full time, and moved into the campus after her husband died and her Parkinson’s advanced to the point where driving was not a good option.  Her body has become frail and not fully under her control, but her mind is sharp as a knife. She lives to teach and interact with young people, and this campus setting is a Godsend.  She feels valued and connected, living among a vital community with shared interests.  And contributing.  Giving to the end.  She learned about the choir the three friends celebrate today from a school virtual bulletin board, and is finding singing a real passion, even though she feels she knows nothing about music.  She loves visiting the Chautauqua where the rehearsals and performances are too.  It’s a beautiful notion a Chautauqua, a retreat for arts and culture. It’s also a beautiful setting, with a lovely park and a view of the Cascade mountain range that are so close you feel as though you can reach out and touch them.

Ben at 81 has the opposite challenge of Jenny. He has always been as strong as an ox, and still is.  He still climbs mountains, albeit the simpler hiking routes and at his own pace.  He does make an annual 4th of July South Sister Mountain climb up the south route, with his dog Bernie leading the way (Bernie knows the route even when Ben doesn’t remember).  Ben started losing his short-term memory about 10 years ago and was then diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment.  Now his full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease has advanced to a state where complex daily tasks such as meal planning and cooking are a bit beyond him.  “Real” climbing is beyond him too, but he lives to feel life on his skin, and he is always up for an alpine start with a friendly partner.  He recently moved into the Bend-Redmond Chautauqua, and loves it.  He, his son, and the campus administration have discussed a reasonable level of risk-taking for Ben, and agreed.  It is his life after all.  And taking some reasonable, managed risk to feel alive is his choice, no matter what his state.  He has a small apartment with meals and the assistance and oversight he needs from the on-site caregivers that serve a wide range of clients, but his apartment is still integrated within the larger Chautauqua community of younger families, vacationers, picnickers, the climbing community hostel, and the Event Center weekly happenings. The whole community looks out for one another, and Ben feels like he has an extended family here.  As he can, he helps out at the climbing hostel teaching knot tying and sorting gear. He is also becoming quite the artist. Ben has turned his craft in construction into creating sculptures.  There is no time, no need for memory in the art he creates.  It’s as much the ongoing action of creation and being present as the end product, the piece. Some of them have been on display and for sale at the Chautauqua’s Event Center when they have their spring and fall art shows.  It was at the Event Center that Ben learned of the choir he, Jenny and Luke share in common, as he was drawn into a rehearsal of theirs as he walked around the campus and heard the beautiful singing. (Ben walks around the campus many times a day, always with Bernie. Very therapeutic).  Luke’s sister invited Ben into the rehearsal space and placed 6′-4″ Ben in the back row next to Luke. Although much of Ben’s shorter-term memory is poor, that part of his brain associated with music is still well functioning.

Luke also lives at the Chautauqua.  Diagnosed with being on the Autism Spectrum when he was 4, Luke needs his own collection of assistance, redirection and guidance, although he is rather high functioning in math and the arts.  Now 27, Luke lives in one of the supportive group settings on the Chautauqua campus too, close to Ben it turns out.  For many weeks Luke has wondered “who’s that guy always walking around the campus with his dog.”  Ben… and Bernie.  Many of the staff who provide higher assistance can float between the supportive settings.  Some of the staff also choose to live on campus in affordable and commute-free cabins.  Luke and Ben have found that they can help each other do some things, particularly physical things, like yard work and chores.  They watch out for and check in on one another.  But as much as anything, they are friends.  Friends who don’t care if one forgets something, and are happy to sit on the Dining Hall porch quietly and watch the sky turn pink after dinner.  Luke also has a photographic memory, and has recently discovered that he can play a song in its entirety after hearing it only once.  He understands music well, it is so mathematical, and now he has begun to write songs too.  He favors writing instrumental music without lyrics. His autism has robbed him of some emotional connection and empathy, making lyric writing difficult.  Luke loves the snow, and aspires to write songs that have the beauty and uniqueness of snowflakes.

Back in the coffee house, a smile comes across Luke’s face as the flurries outside Peet’s begin to turn into a squall. Big wet flakes.  He could be making a snowman tonight.  A sight for all to admire in the central park of the Chautauqua.  A big one with Ben’s help.

Bill Brummett
WBA – Concerto Consulting

“Let your soul stand clear and composed

before a million universes”

                Walt Whitman

Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: