Easterseals Arc consumers are much like other workers when it comes to deciding to retire. Sometimes health or mobility concerns move them to take it easier. Other times, they like the idea of more leisure time.
Marlin, 85, is an old hand at retirement. When Easterseals Arc staff member Bonnie Reeves started working in the home where he lives on Haffner Drive nine years ago, Marlin was already retired. He’d worked for many years in Easterseals Arc’s Projects Drive Group.
He had a hand in assembling many kinds of products for companies that contract with PDG, from parts of Powerwheels for children to components used at General Motors’ Fort Wayne Assembly Plant. Most of his work had been at PDG, but Marlin also remembers working in the laundry at Parkview Hospital.
Steve, who also lives at Haffner, retired more recently after many years working in PDG. “I was tired,” Steve said.
Now Steve enjoys working on puzzles, sometimes on his own, sometimes with housemates. He also enjoys bowling and was on a bowling team until Easterseals Arc’s bowling leagues were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marlin said he enjoys “taking life easy,” but he still gets in on many activities, including bowling and visits to the YMCA. He also enjoys listening to live music downtown. A favorite band he’s seen live is Spike and The Bulldogs.
“I do everything,” he said.
Supported Living Director Rachel Pemberton explained that retiring from paid work doesn’t mean giving up the many services that Easterseals Arc provides. The most important service — one central to Marlin’s and Steve’s lives — is staffing their home 24 hours a day with Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who help these men and their roommates with the tasks of daily life. Part of the mission of those DSPs is keeping the people they serve active and involved. That continues when they retire.
“Instead of doing paid work, they’re doing activities, they’re going out in the community,” Pemberton said. “They’re still active.”
Easterseals Arc aids consumers in another fundamental way: helping them decide whether and when to retire. Pemberton said staff who are most familiar with a consumer approaching retirement meet with the consumer, guardian and/or family member, case manager and a behavioral consultant or other advisers. Together the whole team considers the impact of retirement on a consumer’s life.
Even after people retire, Easterseals Arc offers many activities they can enjoy. Ashley Gettys, who supervises both PDG and the Adult Day Center, said that in normal circumstances, retirees who no longer work in PDG can shift to the Adult Day Center. There they can join in art and music classes; participate in yoga and meditation adaptable to people with many degrees of physical ability; help with gardening projects outdoors; play games; enjoy movies together; or pursue many other activities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gettys said the staff has been adapting to providing activities for consumers more isolated in their homes, particularly during periods when the Adult Day Center is closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Gettys said some consumers tap into exercise classes and cooking shows, for example, through Zoom video. Staff member Karin Brock, who works in the Supported Living office, buys ingredients for consumers to use in their homes and make the dishes demonstrated in cooking shows.
“We’re trying to keep it relevant,” Gettys said.
Cindy, pursuing her “best life”
Cindy, 68, had wanted to retire for at least a year or two. Her sister, who also is her guardian, was cautious about the prospect of Cindy retiring. She was concerned about Cindy becoming too sedentary. Cindy didn’t do traditional work at PDG, but she did go there to sew. She enjoys sewing and is accomplished enough that behavioral consultant Sherry Walton worked with her in 2019 to help her establish “Cynthia Sews,” a business through which she sold items that she made. Earlier in her life, Cindy had worked at the American Red Cross, a grocery store and a nursery.
In Cindy’s case, the spread of COVID-19 helped prompt her team to support her retirement. Elsie Davis, an Easterseals Arc staff member who works with Cindy, said Cindy hasn’t gone to PDG since March.
Part of retirement planning is considering how retirement can contribute to a consumer living their “best life,” a way of life that brings the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment. Pemberton said Cindy’s vision of her best life would be sewing, watching Westerns on television and playing with her cat, Stella. It also might be so sedentary that it could be bad for her health.
“Sometimes, when someone retires, there’s an increase in recreational therapy or music therapy (or other services) just to put more extra resources into that person’s life,” Pemberton said. “Our goal isn’t to have them turn into couch potatoes. We still try to have them do a lot of engagement activities.”
Now Cindy is working on a big sewing project, a tablecloth. “That’ll never stop,” Davis says of her sewing. And she has plenty of time for Stella and Westerns. But Davis ensures that she has more in her life, too. “She’s retired, but I’ve signed her up for some volunteering,” Davis said.
Davis has worked with Cindy for six years and knows her well enough to choose outings and activities that Cindy enjoys.
Now Cindy goes to the Volunteer Center regularly. Sometimes she colors or makes crafts there, or she sorts papers for recycling. She also goes to the Franciscan Center, where she bags sandwiches and snacks to help prepare meals for distribution.
Cindy is definite about her new routine. “YES!” she answers enthusiastically when asked whether she likes being retired.
“She’s like a whole new woman,” Davis said. “Before she retired, it could be hard to motivate her to get out of the house, except for going to PDG. Once she retired, she got a whole new, different spirit!”
Joyce, at home with family
Joyce, 59, grew up primed to work as one of eight children in her Steuben County family. The tasks necessary to operate a household of 10 don’t allow much opportunity for a child to escape from doing chores. She remembers vacuuming, mopping floors, cleaning her bedroom and doing dishes. And neither her size — she is 3 feet tall — nor her Down syndrome excused her from work.
“I was really good at doing the dishes,” she said. An older sister, Robin Hammond, said, “She’s always had a special set of stairs they’d put up to the sink so she could get up there and help do all the chores. She pulled her weight!”
Joyce tried her hand at jobs in the community — at Burger King and at the Fun Spot, a former amusement park near Angola, for example. But work in local businesses didn’t adjust to fit her in the same way her family adjusted chores to her.
“That’s the part that’s been a real challenge for her to get a job out in the community, because of her size. It’s a big person’s world, and she’s just so short,” Hammond said.
Easterseals RISE proved to be an exception that provided years of satisfying work in her life. Joyce, called Joycie by her family, lived with her parents until her mother’s death in 2004. From that time until fall of 2020, she lived in homes with one to three roommates, all of whom were Easterseals RISE consumers.
Nikki Hile, an Easterseals RISE supervisor who’s worked with Joyce, said “her ideal job was to be a secretary in an office.” At the Easterseals RISE office, Joyce got a taste of that. One day a week, she joined the office crew.
“We were working on skills such as answering the phone and transferring phone calls,” Hile said. When the agency had a bistro operated by consumers, one of Joyce’s duties in the office was taking orders from staff members and conveying them to the people making lunches in the bistro.
But as Joyce aged, her arthritis worsened. She now has more difficulty getting around, and she uses a walker.
A younger sister, Margie Salinas, invited Joyce to live with her after Joyce retired in October. Salinas’ children are grown, and she and her husband have ample room for Joyce. Thanks to a younger brother, Dan, Joyce has a room that’s sized to suit her. He redid her bedroom in Salinas’ home, and he refitted Joyce’s bathroom to fit her.
Living with her sister, Joyce has many opportunities to do things she enjoys, such as working jigsaw puzzles — owls are a favorite theme — and shopping for purses and craft supplies. And she’s looking forward to seeing more country-music concerts. “I’ve seen Reba McEntire. And LeAnn Rimes. And Brooks & Dunn. All of them!”
Of course, she still has jobs to do in her new home: “Keeping my room straightened up. And my bathroom. And putting my laundry away.”