Marcia Moore was recently honored with an Excellence in Performance Award for her job as coordinator of residential living at Keller-Sullivan cottage. In this “What I Do” blog post, she discusses the rewards and challenges of teaching life skills to students with blindness and other disabilities. This story was compiled and edited by Paysha Rhone.
I first applied to Perkins when I was working for Numerix Computers, building computers. I had worked a couple weekends at Perkins through an agency as a program aide, and a houseparent suggested I apply. I liked that every day was different; it kept me going. In 30 years, I can honestly say I have not been bored one day.
I initially had a huge learning curve. The students who live in our cottages range from 14 to 22, but emotionally and intellectually, that’s not where they are. I needed to understand childhood development, so I went back to school.
After serving as an awake overnight staffer and assistant houseparent, I became coordinator (formally known as houseparent), and have held this position for 28 years. I currently work in Keller-Sullivan cottage; I have about 14 students, aged 17 and older. I also oversee two apartments, with four students. The apartments provide a more real-life experience – students are not directly under the eyes of the coordinator all the time!
In our residential program, we administer an Independent Living Skills Assessment (ILSA), which places students at a level between 1 and 4. Keller-Sullivan students are Level 3 and 4. We work on dining skills, like table setting and etiquette, and focus on room care, cleaning and organization. We also coordinate with their classroom curriculum.
We teach budgeting, bill paying and grocery shopping. Perkins is health conscious, so they are encouraged to only buy nutritious food. They have to read ingredients, which relates to their health curriculum. Our goal is to help them bridge the gap between classroom learning and real life.
As a team, we help our students deal with day-to-day challenges, and learn appropriate communication. We emphasize the need to be clear about what they need help with. The goal is to not let people do everything for them, and to learn to make decisions for themselves.
We used to talk about “independent” living, but one student told me she imagined independence as being left on an island with no help. So now we call it “interdependence.” That helped ease anxiety.
My job is definitely challenging. It requires a lot of patience, humor, creativity and flexibility. Students don’t always want to work on skills or follow rules. I tell them, right now, you’re in school and these are the rules. What happens when you have to follow rules in an apartment or job?
Ideally, we like to keep students for at least two years in Keller-Sullivan. In the second year, they just blossom. It also gets them ready for apartment life, which comes with more responsibilities. Everyone works together – the staff and therapists – to help them grow and build confidence.
Ultimately, we help them learn to take responsibility for themselves, and transition from childhood into young adults. For me, the reward is seeing them so proud of themselves. That really says it all.