Spiritual Reflections

Being Human

How do you respond to persons with disabilities when you see them anywhere? The answer to that question is simple: do what you would want done to you.

Being human equates to being vulnerable. Being human with a disability hits the vulnerability ball out of the park. As a child I remember when I saw a disabled person, I would be told not to stare because that would cause the other person to be uncomfortable. Not to stare to my child mind meant to put my eyes down and not look at the person. So, I grew up following this advice of not staring, i.e., not looking at the person with a disability. After a while, I began to understand that I was not making the other person uncomfortable by looking at him or her; it was I who was uncomfortable. The question became “Do I look up and say hello? Do I wave? Do I simply walk by?” How many of you have ever looked down or away when a person with a disability was approaching? How many of you have thought, “Oh the poor thing.” No harm is meant but we don’t fully understand that a person with a disability is a human being, different in some ways but a human being, created in the image and likeness of God and therefore, perfect in the eyes of God. If we strive to “see with the eyes of God” then we can see a disabled person as perfect not only in God’s eyes but in our eyes also. How do you respond to persons with disabilities when you see them anywhere? The answer to that question is simple: do what you would want done to you.

The residents at St. Joseph’s Center have physical and/or intellectual disabilities to varying degrees. Some can walk, some can talk, some can feed themselves, and some cannot do any of these daily tasks. This makes them very vulnerable especially in the world away from St. Joseph’s Center. They may not be able to express it verbally; however, they know when someone is unkind to them. They hurt just like we would in the same situation.

What makes the residents one of the most vulnerable groups of people is that they do not know they are vulnerable. This same lack of knowledge can also make them the happiest people in the world. They can approach others with joy and love written all over them and hopefully, others respond with the same joy and love. All the residents of St. Joseph’s Center have to rely on others for something. They also have to be protected from harm, if possible. By example they learn to social distance, to recognize personal space, to be kind and caring to others. The direct support personnel look after each individual person in their care. They see that essential needs are met; they joke with them and encourage them to be happy and kind to the other residents in their unit.

I have lived and worked at St. Joseph’s for almost three years, and what I see is the blessing the residents are to the staff who work here and the blessing the staff is to the residents.

The staff here treat each individual with respect, kindness and concern. It is a joy for me to see so many smiling residents go by in the hallway on their way to programs, dance parties, ice cream socials, or simply to go for a ride in a wheelchair to visit other residents or to have some time out of the unit they call home. 

The spaces in the units are decorated to show the personality of the individual resident. They are filled with pictures of family or friends, and things they enjoy such as animals or flowers. I am often impressed at the attentiveness of the staff when it is a special day like a birthday or holiday. The residents are dressed in a special outfit and receive balloons for their birthday. The residents might be the most vulnerable among us; however, they are not treated in that manner. They are encouraged and challenged to develop to the best of their ability. The residents are open to so many enjoyable, educational and challenging experiences. Each resident has specific goals to meet his or her needs. Even the youngest one here, the baby, is challenged to assume different positions and encouraged to hold his head up and move his arms and feet more. I know him the best because I try to hold him every day. Earlier, I said the residents are not verbal; however, they are able to communicate emotions by the noises they make as well as facial expressions. I used a baseball expression in the first paragraph for a reason: the theme song for the Pittsburgh Pirates is “We are Family.” That is the way it seems here at St. Joseph’s Center. We are a family bonded together by the charism of St. Joseph’s Center. The closing information will give you some additional information about this wonderful place. 

St. Joseph’s Center is an independent Catholic agency sponsored by the Congregation of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, rooted in the values of care, concern, compassion and commitment. The Center strives to provide individuals who have special needs the opportunity to develop their abilities and potential to the fullest extent possible. We do this through residential, community and home-based services, outpatient therapy, and maternity, family and adoption services. For decades, St. Joseph’s Center has been a recognized leader in providing quality care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The continuation of such care depends upon the retention and recruitment of a highly qualified workforce. While St. Joseph’s Center currently employs over 600 staff members, the need for additional staff continues to rise. If you feel drawn to this family, don’t look away. Reach out for a child just waiting for your smile and a hug!

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