My name is Grace. I am the Wellness Program Coordinator at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California. I became a Living Well with a Disability facilitator in 2011. And it is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I say that Living Well is the journey of a lifetime.
Here at our Center for Independent Living (CIL) our workshops have mainly focused on seniors with newly acquired disabilities. In line with the independent living principles (IL) we stress choice and independence. Each workshop is unique; its power emanates from the wisdom of the wonderful seniors who gather around our table. Driven by self-awareness and commitment to healthy living, our participants determine quality of life for themselves. Our workshop participants have achieved these goals: overcome depression; grief; loss of mobility, identities, status and loved ones; secured accessible and adequate housing; made new friends; found part-time employment; sought the health care they needed; achieved changes in living conditions at their senior residences; rekindled creative and social interests and advocated for personal and systems change. Some have moved on to create programs that empower other seniors. I am humbled by the opportunities afforded me to engage with other seniors who are seeking to lead healthy and purposeful lives of their own choosing.
To say the Living Well with a Disability program is critical in so many different ways, does not do the program justice. Not only have our workshop participants benefited from the program, but I, too, have struck gold. Once our workshops began, I soon realized that to be a Living Well facilitator carries great responsibility. In other words, I had to walk the walk. Wow! As a facilitator I, too, like our senior participants, had to be devoted to improving the quality of my life. And there was no way I could escape the powerful momentum of life-affirming change that had been planted with that 1st workshop and nurtured by each successive one. Then Bam! Suddenly, I was making healthy choices and no longer even contemplating the bad ones. I guess empowerment is like that – sneaks up on you when you least expect it and you can no longer opt for the default. You become contagious. As I said – being a Living Well facilitator carries great responsibility, and the rewards are even greater.
The Living Well Facilitator Training should come with this warning: CAUTION – DANGER TO YOUR COMFORT ZONE: REWARDS AHEAD!!
I believe the power of the voice, the power to speak up for your needs, is an incredible testament to the Living Well curriculum.
The Living Well program is a very effective tool for our Center for Independent Living, which we started in 2015. The program has a way of effectively articulating the essence of what our services provide and what the philosophy of independent living means. It allows the participants to have more tools in their respective toolboxes and to obtain the skills needed to move forward in their lives.
As a facilitator, the greatest change I have witnessed during a Living Well workshop, is the importance of the support that has been fostered within the group. While not a traditional support group setting, one of the program’s strengths is the peers. They come together as a group of human beings, flawed, having faced setbacks and detours, and make a quick bond with each other as they see similarities within their circumstances.
The experience can be very impactful for the participants. I liken it to a change in perspective when they realize there is a different way of thinking and processing their setbacks. The challenge is to not let their setbacks stop them from pursuing their goals. As a result of the workshops, participants are able to utilize their advocacy, resilience, and goal setting skills to help them overcome any obstacle.
I got more out of this than I thought possible. I took the class with the idea of being a facilitator and understanding what my staff does in that role. I had no idea it would make me think so deeply and introspectively. It gave me greater empathy for the people we serve.
The tools I learned in the training, the good coach model, setting goals, and the ability to connect all the pieces of health and its direct connection to greater quality of life, will be great for providing services.
I started immediately employing the good coach model not only for others, but for myself! This is a great way to avoid frustration when detours are thrown into the path of reaching goals and is paramount for success. Sometimes such basic items as this are the most overlooked. Keeping that positive approach is so important and helps to create a positive approach to life in general!
The key skill of breaking problems down into manageable steps learned in the Problem Solving chapter, as well as being able to identify what is temporary and what is a permanent road block, will help my staff to help others.
One of the most important realizations for me about the training was the criticalness of clear communication covered in the chapter on Healthy Communication. Communication is a two-way interaction and we really need to give others the tools for making sure that the message they want to convey is received in the way they want it received. If there is not clear communication, then really the whole idea of “Living Well” cannot be achieved.
As a result of this training, I now see how many steps it takes for a person with a disability to be able to reach their goals and I gained greater respect for the difficulties involved with managing health. It enabled me to see the importance of health as a continuum of independence.