DePaul’s OPTIONS day support centers looked different for much of 2020. To keep participants and staff safe, the centers paused operations. It was a difficult decision and adjustment for everyone involved.
“It’s hard to be away from each other because we are like a big family,” said Renee Graves, the day support coordinator at Fishersville OPTIONS.
Reflecting on this time, Renee recalls running into an OPTIONS participant in the community and the sweet reunion they had. Renee was parked in front of the local movie theater when she saw someone approaching. It was Barry. He had his mask on, but she could tell he was smiling from ear to ear. She put on her mask as quickly as she could and stepped outside. From a safe distance, Renee began waving and Barry began to hum and move his hands. Barry is deaf and does not use sign language to communicate—he prefers gestures and movements.
“Barry more than likes DePaul day support … I would venture to say he loves it,” said Missie Dykes, Barry’s guardian.
In their own way, Renee and Barry were connecting again, sharing smiles, and catching up on all the moments they missed. It was bittersweet; they knew they would have to leave each other soon but they also knew that no matter how far apart they might be, their hearts would stay connected.
As Renee and Barry discovered in that parking lot, OPTIONS is more than a building. It moves beyond physical proximity. OPTIONS is such a powerful force that it can live in the buildings, but it can also live in the spaces outside, the spaces staff and participants create together.
“It provides shelter, security, a safe space to be yourself, the opportunity to build self-esteem and independence, and a place to feel supported and respected,” said Renee.
This uncertain time has led OPTIONS staff members to think differently about how to build connections and relationships outside the physical building. They have been more intentional about outreach, mailing letters, crafts, and activities to participants. They have checked in and stayed updated on each participant’s life. That’s what a family does when it’s apart. You work to stay in touch, you send your love whenever and however you can, and you count down the days until you can be together again.