“I think what doesn’t kill you makes you a better human being. It opens your eyes, your heart, and your mind.” – Derek Hough [Dancing with the Stars]
Trevor the Otter
***This cute little otter keeps sending me emails with sometimes very profound quotes.***
AND IN THE BEGINNING… Keep on keepin’ on
I finally took that deep long leap into unknown, uncharted waters and went to college AWAY FROM HOME. Far far away; FARMVILLE, Virginia (if the name of the town gives any indication of how far away this is from the DC metropolitan area. Total culture shock) is about 3 hours away from my home in northern VA. Here I was, suddenly dropped into a whole new atmosphere, away from the friends that I used to have and acquired since my life changing car accident. Without the help of my parents, who I was completely dependent on after my accident, I went to college. It was a positive and healthy change for me, being plopped into a school in the middle of nowhere. In Farmville, 15 years ago, there was the college. And then there was a Walmart. Not much else, except for the Oriental rug store and the local college restaurant/bar hangout, Macados. All within walking distance of the campus. Thinking back to that time in my life brings a smile to my eyes.
I was glad to get away from home, and to venture out on my own, although it was very lonely. It didn’t help that my roommate and I did not exactly get along, and for that reason I didn’t spend very much time in my room that semester. I would go to the library, or to my friends’ room in another building to study and socialize there. The library, ah the library; it was my favorite place to study. The library was free from distractions, at least the distractions of having another person just sitting next to you studying, watching TV and laughing, or there with her boyfriend that seemed was constantly visiting from her hometown. The fact that it was my first time living without my parents, just 2 1/2 years post traumatic brain injury (TBI), was amazing. I had become so reliant on my parents helping with the basic needs of life, like food, cleaning the house and laundry.
Plus I was trying to establish some sort of social life of my own, get involved in activities and clubs. I chose InterVarsity, a Christian club with really good people, TRO (Therapeutic Recreation Organization, my major’s fraternity) and went to a bunch of activities on campus by myself so I’d meet people. My experience from meeting people at Longwood College helped me throughout my life while coming into new situations. Meeting all these new people my freshman year built my self confidence to go out in the REAL WORLD after graduation and work with people in all different walks of life. In my field of study, this is incredibly important since I work with people all day.
Thinking back to that day when my parents first dropped me off at the campus, which seemed like such a huge new “home” away from home, I was in the same position as everybody else.
Sure I was walking with a cane, my speech was a little slower than the norm, but I felt like everyone else was right there with me. Going away from home to live at Longwood College, was really the best thing that I could have done developmentally. I was an equal, no longer “a girl who used to be cool,” the former cheerleader that got into that accident. I had a clean state, with no one to compare me. That’s what I liked most about going far away from home. It gave me the chance to find my independence, to grow up and define the person who is Danielle Houston. Oh yeah, and I got an education to do what I want with my life.
But I did it! I went to college, and through a strong sense of determination did not give up and completed school in five years. I survived Longwood with the help of the Academic Support Center and my professors; who knew a professor was willing to spend every day in his office hours helping me grasp Statistics at 8AM in the morning! I loved my Statistics professor; he had so much patience with me, helping me to correct the mistakes that I had made and how to correctly solve the math problems. I had tried so hard on the final exam, attempting each problem, but somehow just not coming up with the correct answer. However, he knew that I was trying and I passed the class and fulfilled the math requirement for my major! The Academic Support Center provided carbon copy notepaper for a classmate to take notes on (she got a copy of her notes and so did I), which was very helpful, because I tend to zone out very often. The Academic Support center also made the adaptations to allow me with extra time to take tests in a less stimulating environment. The director of the of the Academic Support center, Rebecca Sturgill helped me so much not to quit and give up; the staff found solutions and guidance with what was troubling me. This helped me throughout my career at the nursing home to look at adaptive techniques to help our residents, like enlarging puzzles or coloring pictures and allowing extra time for various activities.
In order to graduate with that degree in Therapeutic Recreation, I needed to begin a summer internship, where I was put in a different environment doing something new and exciting, but very unfamiliar to me. My junior internship over the summer was with a former Longwood graduate, Barbie Burton as a supervisor, but it was in the real world in a new environment. I was nervous working with a different population than I had worked with previously. The population that I was working with was adults with intellectual disabilities or the adults in the MR population. Bingo and arts and crafts were my favorite programs to conduct. In my senior internship, I trained at a nursing home and the assisted living facility at Greensprings Retirement Community. From the very beginning this was a different environment for me, we had to dress up each day and act professional; Greensprings is a very nice, dignified community. I especially liked going on van trips with the red hat society (ladies over 50) and the purple hat ladies (over 70). A ceramics class that we were participating in with the residents helped me to see the joy that the residents derived from arts and crafts activities.
Having graduated with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation with the help of Dr. S. Lynch (the director of TR), I used my skills and compassion by working in the Activity department of a nursing home for 9 long years. It didn’t really seem like 9 years, the time really flew by; I was just having such a fun time ‘goofing off’ with the residents. At the nursing home that I worked at in Fairfax, I worked mostly on the 2nd floor, which is the Special Care Unit. The residents there were difficult to work with, and require a lot of time and patience, although I loved interacting with them and their family members creating the memorable, happy times. Just today I actually got a Facebook message from a family member, “Miss you. You were among the best at the nursing home. Your love and compassion was very evident.”
I started out working at Fairfax Nursing Center and was assigned the afternoon to evening shift. Night time at the nursing home is always difficult to experience. In the afternoon, the residents go into a “sundowning,” which means that they get very agitated in the afternoon/early evening. ‘Dancing with the Stars’ TV reality show would immediately calm the residents down. DWTS bears a close relationship to American Bandstand, and the other dancing shows that were aired in the past that the residents remember.
I had been working there for a long time and needed a change. My current plan is to conquer my next dream of writing my memoir. I try to implement the skills that I have developed in previous English courses. I also use my expressive writing skills that we were given a chance to practice by turning in Dr. Koesler’s weekly writing assignment. My memoir is coming, slowly, but if Longwood University has taught me anything, I have learned the perseverance to see my dreams come true.