In the early 70’s, my brother returned from Vietnam. He is five years younger than me, and he was a young kid when he left to be in the Air Force as a Demolition Expert. He spent most of his service time out near the end of the runways, where the planes would come in, sometimes with bombs they did not drop, and one of his jobs was to neutralize and unload them until they were needed again.
When we had the first family reunion after he returned, I could hardly recognize him. He is now considered 100% disabled, though when he returned he was considered 40%. He had a TBI and had multiple surgeries to try to put in a plate, but none of them worked and they made him pass out repeatedly. He also had a spinal surgery that was blotched and so he could not walk well at all, and spent a lot of time sleeping because of pain. And then he had PTSD like so many others, his from having to shoot tiny children who came onto the runway, wired with bombs. It is difficult to imagine how people become so brainwashed or terrorized that they could ever harm their own children and babies.
Seeing him again like that when he had still been a big kid in his mind and spirit when he left, full of mischief and the joy of being young was almost too much. It gave me a heart to work with physically, developmentally and emotionally challenged children and adults, something I have done for the rest of my life.
I first began to work with special needs children in the Torrance and Redondo Beach school districts in California as a substitute, and I worked every single day and absolutely loved it. Many if not most of my children were preschoolers, kinders and middle school aged then, and had multiple challenges. I did this work throughout Southern California for more than 15 years, always as a substitute Paraeducator, Aide, or Teacher (uncertified). I think over the many years, I learned more from my children than they did from me, though I was always an innovator with the ways I did things.
I do not believe that special needs children who are likely to end up living at home or in a group home or other special facility need to be tormented by having them do repetitive work unless they really show an inclination to like that, and yes, some of them are very good and very happy and excellent workers doing repetitive work. My belief is that every child should be given an opportunity to do something that makes them happy, even if it is making beaded necklaces or weaving or whatever else they enjoy.
The book above is the cover of a book by Barbara Williamson and me. Her name, though not on the front of the book, is on the back with the other authors. Besides telling her own story, she made major contributions in the way of decision making and adding creative input through the journey of the creation of the book. Just ahead of the time I was working as a substitute, I decided to start a nonprofit to assist physically challenged fiber artists (art quilters, though many of them work in many mediums besides quilts). Because I too was involved with art quilting, I realized how difficult and expensive it was for them to enter juried shows, often to not get accepted after paying an entry fee that most could little afford. So I wanted to find venues that gave them a lot of excellent exposure and at the same time wanted to teach them professional development. Barbara Williamson and I became excellent friends and she became the Secretary of the nonprofit. We ran it successfully with just her caregiver, Rob as our treasurer, and no money in the kitty, which made running the nonprofit very simple.
The first exhibit we ran was called My World in Black and White, and we had s121 participants from various countries and the United States. The exhibit had some 10 live venues in one year (what we call traveling venues) and the exhibit museums, galleries and quilt shows were only too glad to help us send all the quilts as a group show for free. I only had to get the quilts to the first venue, and from then on, everything went from one venue to the next seamlessly. At the end of the last venue, the quilts were returned to me and I was able to ship them all back home to the ladies. If the venue was local, I was there to help hang the quilts and take care of other chores and greet the visitors as needed.
We ran the nonprofit for some ten more years, with back to back exhibits the entire time, and we did a lot of things besides that, helping after provide school projects and materials for the children of migrant workers, providing donated used sewing machines for other ladies who could not afford to get one on their own, donating quilting materials to the American Indian ladies on Pine Ridge and other things. During this time, Barbara grew her own art and developed her fiber arts as a profession. She is successful in everything she does now even though she is confined to a wheelchair.
We have changed our focus now as we are both older. Barbara lived in Paradise, CA, where the entire town burned down November 2018, causing her to lose basically everything. She has started life all over again and is busy settling into another home in a different city and working on her continuing career. As for me, I am studying a fantastic correspondence and event class called The Silent Eye Mystery School led by Steve Tanham, Sue Vincent and Stuart France. I still tutor special needs children and adults as well as ESL adults, and I will likely be a volunteer in some capacity the remainder of my life. I am currently a volunteer court-appointed volunteer advocate for CASA (a nonprofit located through the U.S.) for foster children. So life is never dull and when not doing these things I am working on more books and caregiving for my significant other, Richard, taking care of my garden and our six chihuahuas, a cat, two huge goldfish and two alien catfish. I am 77 now and intend to stay busy for whatever time is left. Although I have very little in the way of material goods, I have been immensely rich in life experiences and lifelong friends, and for that I am eternally grateful.