Next in the series: SPOTLIGHT ON PROVIDERSHIP
Susan Hermenau – determination and love
It’s a lifelong process for all of us:
• Can we make the hard, brave choices?
• How do we enrich our own lives and others, via compromise?
For Susan Hermenau, one of IPPI’s exceptional home providers, these have been central questions of her providership.
Twenty years ago Susan and her husband Bruce asked James, a young man with a disability to live with them. They lived together for 10 years until James passed away. After that fulfilling experience, Susan and Bruce wanted to share their lives with another person with a disability who wished to expand the horizon.
Enter Patty, who desperately needed a place to live.
By her own account, Patty had a rough childhood, landing in NH state hospital as a teenager because her behavior was out of control and she was trying to hurt herself. After leaving the hospital, an angry, upset Patty had 3 unsuccessful placements with families in the community.
The staff at Community Partners responsible for finding a home for Patty knew her well. They were doubtful about her prospects for living in the community. Patty’s behavior was explosive and violent toward people and property. She clearly needed “complete eyes on”, 24/7 oversight. She probably couldn’t be around children due to her volatile behavior, so placing her in a family home seemed unrealistic. Patty was hurt, frustrated and, as she recounts, distrustful of people.
But someone at Community Partners knew Susan Hermenau, and believed Susan and her family had something unique to offer this intelligent but troubled young woman. After meeting Patty and getting to know her, Susan and Bruce made a big decision: to invite Patty to live with them and their children. Patty accepted.
At first it was a rocky road.
Patty’s violent, threatening behavior from her past continued. At one point she smashed holes in the family’s walls. She was still at risk of harming herself and at times was threatening to Susan and her family.
During those first months of living together, Susan worked hard to communicate to Patty that rules and expectations are important, as are commitment and love. “We all need rules and we all need choices”, says Susan. “I have certain expectations and I can be blunt. I don’t believe in most of the attention going to one person. Early on Patty did lots of things to get attention, like rock vigorously back and forth. I asked, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ The rocking stopped. She would threaten to run away and would lie about things. I explained that there are household rules -- not many of them -- just a few that treat everyone fairly.”
Patty began to settle comfortably into her new home. She recalls being nervous in the family’s home at first, but remembers that Sue, Bruce and their kids made her feel welcome. They introduced her to their friends and neighbors. Patty has now lived happily with Susan, Bruce and their children for 14 years. She has learned to trust both Bruce, who she describes as gentle and easy going, and Susan, who Patty says “is more of an authority person. She doesn’t let anybody push me around.”
Not only has Patty chosen to stay; she reminds Susan, “Kamerin has a swimming lesson today”. She brings out pictures of Kamerin, Scott and Devon to share with friends. She volunteers at the soup kitchen and for her church’s Community Clothing project. She has worked at Hannaford for more than ten years, attends a knitting club and does pet sitting for neighbors. She’s even gone with friends on vacation to Florida, California --- and Vegas!
To help Patty improve her life, Susan says, “I’ve had to support Patty to become well connected in the community. Now practically everybody knows her and greets her.” Susan has also had to be a good communicator and a strong advocate so Patty can build her self-confidence. Susan says, “I’m not easily scared or worried. I follow my gut. I also have good management skills, and that’s been helpful.”
Susan took a great leap of faith, supported by Bruce, when they invited Patty to live with them. For them it took courage, determination and readiness for a challenge. For Patty it took fortitude and trust and belief in herself and her future.
To sum it up, Susan says, “As home providers, our role is to help people become who they are, not who we are. That’s why their choices are so important”. So, yes, Susan has expectations of everyone around her, including Patty. In addition, the message she and Bruce continually give to Patty is, “We love you and we’d like you to be here with us. But it’s your choice.”
Guts. Expectations. Choice. Love. This is the stuff of which great providerships are made.