I’ve been asked over the years why I started Compass and many of you have heard various versions of my journey that brought us to this place. I plan on taking this year to tell you all the major milestones of this journey, as we celebrate our 20th year in business. But today I start at the beginning.
My beginning was as a twenty-year old kid who wanted a paid internship. I applied at a small mom and pop agency that had freshly received vendorization. They had but a few clients. It was a Wild West season in Supported Living as regulations hadn’t even been finalized and philosophy was the main staple of a program plan. This is to say this agency had an idea of SLS, but had not actually done SLS. They needed staff and my advisor allowed me to use care giving as my internship for my psychology program.
I will never forget the day I walked into Cindy’s house. I felt nervous and unsure. I had never spent time with a person with disabilities and I wasn’t sure what to say or if we would have anything in common. My training was quick—too quick really. The owner, Mary, and a staff I would later get to know as the one with horrible boundaries, introduced me to Cindy. We will call her Stacy because I can’t remember her name.
I don’t remember if I even heard Cindy speak that day. I was given a few basics about Cindy’s house and shown a pivot transfer. There is something to be said about the courageous ignorance of youth. I didn’t even attempt one transfer. I just watched and we all seemed to think that would be enough.
I arrived to my next shift with a fair amount of trepidation. I was going to be alone with Cindy and I was convinced we would have nothing to talk about. The staff with bad boundaries (still calling her Stacy) showed me one more time how to do a pivot transfer and left.
I was on my own. I was too naïve to fully understand the gravity of my situation, but it was never lost on Cindy. She at once began to train me. She was the most patient and kind coach I had ever had. I learned so much sitting at her Park West apartment.
A Wise and Loving Friend
When I am extremely nervous I talk….a lot. I began to talk Cindy’s ear off. She was so graceful about it as she listened. She asked me to share what I had done the last summer. I had been in the Philippians the summer before and was anxious to share about my trip. All my nervousness vanished as I came to realize I was going to spend time with a companion. I was going to get the rare and special gift of caring for not a patient or a client, but a wise and loving friend. In those initial moments, the first thing she taught me was that she was a person and we would be having a relationship, not a transaction.
She then taught me about transfers and positioning, but in the midst of that there was a deeper, lifelong lesson. She taught me about how to have grace when in unbearable pain. I would transfer her poorly or go over a bump too quickly and you could see the pain etched on her face, but she would always say in her Cindy way, “That’s okay.” If you knew her, you can probably hear the falsetto voice she would use to say that phrase. It was one of Cindy’s hallmarks.
Heroes Come in All Forms
I remember vividly the agonizing process of getting her into bed. I would go out to the couch once was in bed and marvel at what she did each and every day to be a part of society. She would endure unspeakable pain to live amongst us. There, I realized heroes come in all forms and I had met one.
Most importantly, Cindy taught me about friendship and awakened an unknown part of my heart. My professor remarked on it when he saw us together. He said, “Sadie, you are an athlete and your body working well is so important to you. Did you ever think that you would use your body to help another person live her life?”
Use My Voice
It was in that moment that I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my days. I wanted to use my voice for those who had no voice. I wanted to use my legs to push others who could not propel themselves. In turn, Cindy would give me things I did not have. She would share her experiences and let me into her world. She would also give me her wisdom she had acquired through both her pain and triumphs. Compass was not born on this day, but my heart for people with disabilities was.
Hurt Like Hell
Later, Cindy became our client here at Compass. We served her for over fifteen years. Last year, Cindy decided she was done with her job on this earth. The day she passed away, family, friends, staff and former staff gathered from all over to be with her: to have one more moment of her strength and courage.
I will admit I was scared to go see her that last day. I wasn’t ready to lose my mentor and I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye. But when I walked in her room, over six people were crammed in around her and the love was palpable. I witnessed the indelible mark she left on so many. I was reminded of an earlier lesson: conquerors come in all forms.
I heard it said that the amount of pain you feel in mourning is proportionate to the love you feel in life. If so, I must have really loved Cindy because her death hurt like hell. I loved Cindy for Cindy, but I also loved what she opened up inside of me and what I now share with this community. I will be eternally grateful that she took a chance on a twenty-year old kid and opened me up to not only a career, but also a passion for people with disabilities. She gave me far more than I could ever repay. She will forever be my hero.