It was Friday, July 3, 1970 when Wendy came to Opengate as a young woman of 19, a date she has committed to memory. The agency was founded the previous year by a group of parents wanting better resources for their adult children. There were not many options for adults as they aged out of the system which provided for their needs as children.
Growing up, Wendy, like most children with disabilities, did not have access to a public education, but she attended special classes throughout her childhood which helped her deal with emotional and behavioral conditions. She is cognizant of these issues and describes how her programs at Opengate have helped overcome them. She has learned how to control anger, reduce her stress, and improve socially.
“Social” is a fitting description of Wendy. She loves to greet new people when they come to Opengate to make them feel more comfortable in their new surroundings and know that they have made a new friend. She takes pride in leading tours of Opengate and the beautiful surroundings.
Her brother reports that “Wendy is a part of the community and knows everyone! She feels comfortable and says a friendly hello to everyone she sees.” She is naturally outgoing and he remarks that she feels accepted and secure in the knowledge that she can just “be Wendy.”
Wendy attended the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS) annual statewide conference where self-advocating people with disabilities come together to learn, network, and become motivated with new ideas. She mentions that at the last conference she learned more about replacing anger by looking at the positive side of her life, and was able to network with others who taught her about stress reduction and listening skills.
Opengate offers many activities for residents, both onsite and within the community. Wendy participates in Tai Chi and Laughing Yoga classes which she explains as providing healing energy, body movement, and, most important, a lot of fun! She enjoys anything that involves physical activity and has exercise equipment available to use as she likes. Her favorite physical recreation is swimming and she has memories of many outings to various pools. She also participates in other social activities such as movies and shopping.
Along with other residents, Wendy takes part in Shabbat observances (at Opengate’s Bernstein House) lighting candles, setting the table, and sharing prayers. Wendy fondly remembers being a part of the gardening program which grows organic vegetables and flowers. The harvests were used for meals as well as for sale to community members. Wendy says that she has a natural green thumb!
Wendy’s father’s memories of her as a child were of her living in her own little world with difficulty communicating. When she came to Opengate in 1970, it was a small agency that offered more personal, direct contact with residents from a highly trained staff. He notes classes at that time were more geared towards vocational studies preparing residents for jobs they could perform. He says Wendy eventually came out of her little world to discover she could reach out to others, talk more, and enjoy activities. Wendy’s experience has been close to perfect at Opengate.
One of the challenges presented to Wendy was the death of her mother which created problems for her socially. She speaks lovingly about her mother, but also recognizes the impact her step-mother has made in her life as well as her father’s. Her step-mother takes an active role in the family and is especially impressed with the level of care Wendy receives at Opengate. She appreciates the two-way communications and finds comfort in the knowledge that all of Wendy’s needs are met.
Wendy has seen many changes over the years since 1970; Opengate growing from one house and school to new homes within the community, better programs, and more social activities. Although her father and step-mother visit Wendy as often as possible, her brother will be moving and not able to see her as often. However, each of them is comforted by the fact that Wendy has created deep bonds and considers Opengate and her fellow residents her “second family.”
Wendy has another date in her memory, July 6, 1969 as the date that Opengate was founded 50 years ago. She, as well as everyone at Opengate, is looking forward to the future. Chief Operating Officer, Deborah Mayo says, “It will just get better and better with more beautiful community homes, dedicated staff members, and resources. It will be an incredible journey.”