A Day in the Life: Hanna’s Journey with Developmental Disabilities

Meet Hanna

Each day VOA Southeast helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities lead rich, fulfilling lives guided by their own choices and interests.

In this month’s impact story you’ll meet Hanna. Hanna has an intellectual disability, and up until her mid-30s she lived with her mother. But when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she contacted VOA Southeast to find out how Hanna could benefit from our array of support services for people with disabilities.

Now, with our help, Hanna lives independently in an apartment on her own – she’s even looking for a job! Find out more in the story below.

Though she was 34 years old at the time, Hanna is deaf and has an intellectual disability, both of which limit her ability to communicate with most people. She speaks American Sign Language (ASL) and she has a device she uses to write and receive messages, but up until then she’d been very reliant on her mother, who had been taking care of her all her life.

But when her mother got cancer, she began wondering: who would take care of Hanna after she passed?
That’s when Hanna’s mom turned to VOA Southeast. VOA Southeast has an array of programs and services designed to meet intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals where they are and provide them with the assistance they need to flourish and thrive.

Programs include:

  • Housing
  • Enrichment centers
  • Personal care assistance
  • Supported employment

Finding independence

When Hanna’s mom first contacted VOA Southeast, she thought that Hanna would probably have to transition to living in a group home after she passed away, said Angelique Frederick, VOA Southeast’s Coordinator of Day Services. But they soon found out that Hanna wanted – and was capable of – much more than that.

“We quickly realized [Hanna] could thrive with the right supports in place in an independent apartment on her own,” says Frederick. “Just two years ago people thought this wasn’t possible, yet here she is proving everyone wrong!”

It didn’t happen overnight, though.

“At first it was challenging [for Hanna],” says Regional Services Director Nycole Jordan. “Quite challenging. I’d get phone calls all night, at 1 am, 2 am, 3 am.” Hanna would be anxious about the day ahead, checking to see when her helper was scheduled to come see her. Or she’d have questions about medication and didn’t want to wait to ask.

But Hanna’s not just happy to be on her own; she protects her private time.

“Now she’s like, ‘Look, you’ve got these people coming over to check on me too much,” laughs Jordan. “You’ve got to put some time in between!”

Andrea, a VOA Southeast volunteer who speaks to and can interpret for Hanna through sign language comes to check on her most days. On a typical day, Hanna might rely on Andrea for a ride to the library or the park. She might ask Andrea to come with her to the supermarket, the drug store, or a doctor’s visit. Or she might tell her she’s fine for the day and doesn’t need any help.

The key, says Frederick, is that it’s driven by Hanna’s own choices for herself.

“The days look different based on what it is that Hanna wants to do,” says Frederick. “It’s all personally driven, it’s her decision what she wants to do, what she likes to do, what her interests are.”

Not all clients live alone. Some need to live in group homes where they have access to supervised care 24 hours a day. Others live with families who need some additional support. Staffing from VOA Southeast gives the family a break from taking care of them for a few hours – and it gives them a break from being around their families all day.

Hanna’s mother passed away about a year ago, but not before seeing Hanna start to make her first big strides toward living more independently after years of depending on her. Angelique Frederick said she knows Hanna’s mother would be amazed at her progress.

“If she could see her today, I think she would be blown away.”

The person-centered planning model

At the heart of how VOA Southeast works with clients who have a developmental disability is the person-centered planning model. This model emphasizes working closely with clients to make sure that they receive the appropriate level of care for their particular goals and needs.

Nycole Jordan stresses that there’s an array of services depending on the individual. “We work with a wide range of individuals, [including] individuals who don’t require staff to be with them all day.” Some clients, such as Hanna, might have their own place where they can come and go as they please, and support staff from VOA Southeast are just there a few hours a day to assist them with a handful of day-to-day tasks.

“One person might need transportation to go to work,” she says, “where the other person can catch the bus to go to work. Someone might need help with their medication, where someone else just needs help going to the pharmacy to pick up their medication. Some goals for individuals might be to live independently in the community in their own home, whereas someone else’s goals can be just learning how to ride a bike.”

“We make sure everything is personalized,” says Justin Flowers, Director of Developmental Disabilities. “Our vision at Volunteers of America is to reach and uplift all people and to empower them and enrich their particular lives. So we’re really looking for ways we can personalize [our clients’] bedrooms, personalize where they live, how they dress every day – everything we do we want to make sure it’s on a one-to-one basis geared toward that person.”

Unexpected challenges

Some people, like Hanna, have an aid who checks on them and spends a few hours a day providing transportation for them as they go about their daily life or assisting them with certain routine activities, such as helping them pay at stores or navigate doctors’ appointments.

Nycole Jordan mentions that her staff often has to advocate for their clients during these day-to-day interactions because people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can face unexpected challenges that most people would never think of.

For instance, the medical staff at a doctor’s office might not realize that someone with intellectual disabilities is able to sign forms or get by without a legal guardian. They might deny them services or assume they’re not legally permitted to make decisions for themselves. In these sorts of situations, VOA Southeast personnel step in to make sure that their clients’ voices are being heard.

“They really want to have a voice,” says Justin Flowers. “They want to be heard. They want you to take the time to really listen to them, sit down and talk to them. If you go into any of our settings, you’ll see each individual – even the people who are non-verbal – they’ll give you cues to come to them, simply because they want you to acknowledge them, to make sure that they’re heard, that they have a voice.”

Enrichment and community integration

Another vital component in VOA Southeast’s services is enrichment and community integration through the Facility Day Program. People with disabilities from all over Mobile, AL come together at VOA Southeast’s Community Enrichment Center to be social, interact with other individuals, or go out into the community on group outings.

“That’s what this whole thing is about,” said Angelique Frederick: “it’s about integrating communities and not keeping people with intellectual disabilities separate away from the community.” People underestimate the importance of just being out and about for her clients, she says – of getting to go where you want and meet new people.

Two people from the program even got married!

Supported employment

Another way VOA Southeast supports clients with disabilities is through the Supported Employment program. Individuals are paired with job coaches who work with them one-on-one to help them find meaningful employment. That means an initial assessment to determine what they like and enjoy doing. It also means additional on-the-job training to make sure their clients understand and can perform their job duties properly before they’re left to do the work on their own.

“Employment makes individuals feel worthy of something,” said Frederick. It’s not just about maximizing their independence – it’s also about cultivating a sense of accomplishment and community investment. “They’re not just being given something, they’re earning something. They can say, ‘This is my money that I earned.’”

“I have a job coach that’s helping me search for a job,” says Hanna. She knows from her own experience volunteering at Goodwill and from doing chores around the house that she would enjoy a job cleaning.

“I’d like to find a cleaning service job,” she says. “I’d like to clean tables, wash dishes, or maybe be a dishwasher at a restaurant.”

VOA Southeast’s ministry of service and care

“I think of this as my ministry,” said Angelique Frederick. “I’m not a preacher. I can’t sing. But this is what God gave me. He gave me this skill. It’s a privilege to work with these individuals, to be a part of their lives, and to see the way they change and grow, and I hope I’m pleasing God going out and working with these individuals every day.”

Our organization positively impacts the lives of over 47,000 people each year. By emphasizing independence, personal choice, and productive employment, VOA Southeast enriches the lives of hundreds of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Georgia and Alabama. We rely on your support to make these programs a reality. Your contributions are what enable us to continue our work. Please consider donating today. Every contribution makes a difference.

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