B14F3D9C_copy – Home & Community Options

Ebony Mitchell has been exceeding expectations for as long as anyone can remember.  Diagnosed with Autism as a small child, Ebony always had to work twice as hard as other kids her age in order to communicate her wants and needs.  She remembers her early childhood as an often frustrating time, full of confusion and misplaced anger.  “I used to not have words,” she recalls thoughtfully.  “I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t.  It made me sad and mad.”

When it became obvious Ebony required more stability and routine in her life, her Grandmother, Marlene, became Ebony’s guardian, and most fierce advocate.  Working tirelessly, Marlene enrolled Ebony in early childhood classes and found her a case manager.  She worked closely with Ebony’s teachers and therapists.  She researched Autism and the strategies and interventions that slowly but surely helped transform kids who are non-verbal into kids who can request, express, and eventually “find their words.”  At a time when Marlene should have been planning her retirement, slowing down and reaping the benefits of a hard-working life well lived, she was starting over as a full-time mother.  Everything she did, every decision she made, revolved around getting Ebony the help she needed for success.

Ebony, for her part, pushed herself to work hard, trusting the adults in her life to guide her in the right direction.  Along with finding her words, Ebony found a whole world beginning to open up to her.  She quickly realized, to her delight, she could advocate for herself.  She was off and running, literally!

“I love to run,” Ebony says smiling.  “I like winning ribbons and medals.  I have a lot of them!”  After many years of racing in the Winona Special Olympics, Ebony joined the St. Charles track team upon reaching high school and was a gifted runner.  She excelled in both her academics and her social life.  Ebony grew in thoughtfulness, intelligence and empathy.  After graduation, she secured employment in a nursing home service kitchen, where she worked happily for several years.

Despite having what many would agree was a comfortable and productive life, Ebony wanted more.  She wanted to live on her own.  She wanted to stretch out and become more involved in her community.  She was an adult.  It was time.  Grandma Marlene was faced with the tough decision so many parents have to make…when to let go.  Once that decision was made, Ebony’s team began to explore options for her to take the next step.  Ebony was so excited for the next chapter in her life.  And although she’d miss Ebony terribly, Marlene knew it was time.  “I had to let her go be her own person and live her own life” she reflects.

The day arrived, and the move was made.  Ebony immediately endeared herself to her staff and housemates.  Her excitement was palpable.  When asked what she likes best about living in her new home, Ebony replies, “I like being able to make my own choices.”  She settled in quickly and immediately set to work obtaining employment.  With her eye for detail and her ability to follow directions with minimal supervision, Ebony knew she’d be perfect for a position with Chartwell at St. Mary’s University.  She was right.  After a lengthy application process and an interview which required her to submit recordings of her answers, Ebony earned a position with Chartwell.  She prides herself on the hard work she provides, and her supervisors and co-workers look forward to seeing her every day.

“I take care of things,” she states proudly.  “I wash the dishes.  I put them away.  I stack the plates and organize the silverware.  I work really hard.”  When asked what she likes about her job, Ebony replies, “I like the people saying hello.  I like my bosses.  I like cleaning up the lunchroom.  Everyone is nice to me.”

After a busy shift Ebony comes home and relaxes by sitting outside in the hammock listening to her music, or watching Disney movies in her room.  “I love my room!” Ebony says excitedly.  “I love the pink!”  Upon moving into her new home, Ebony was able to design her room on her own, and design she did!  Pink walls, pink bedding, pink rugs, furniture, window coverings…Ebony’s room is like the inside of a festive birthday cake…and that is just the way she likes it.  “Pink makes me happy,” she says sweetly.

Ebony has since settled into her routine and is loving life “on her own.”  She cooks her own breakfast, does her own chores, and loves being helpful.  If there’s a job to do, Ebony does it as independently as she can.  When she reflects back on how her life has changed from the time she was little, Ebony grows thoughtfully quiet.  “It’s better now…” she says wistfully.  “I can do what I want, make my own money, buy my own things.  Everything is great!” she ends with a smile.  “I’m glad I found my words.”