By Cassandra Sales
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week, it has been a time of reflection, especially for women. Justice Ginsburg is the reason women can sign a lease for an apartment and what better way to celebrate that then a story of just what that means to someone in our community. One of our core values at Compass is Freedom. Freedom of choice can completely transform someone’s world. Think about how many choices you make per day that you take for granted. The clothes we wear, the time of day we shower, if we want to pack our lunch or eat out – these are all freedoms we have had our entire adult lives. However, those freedoms were not afforded to Sherri Walter. She spent all of her life in a group home where not only was she not afforded the opportunity to choose what to wear and when, she didn’t even have her own clothes from which to choose.
Remember the Bonnie Tyler song “I need a hero?” It talks about all the traits we look for in someone to come save us. They have to be strong, fast, and larger than life. One day, after a lifetime of wanting to be free, Sherri realized all those traits were deep within her. Sherri became her own hero. She is a spunky, driven, and bold woman who last year, after spending her entire life in a group home, decided to move into her own home for the first time.
Another core value we hold at Compass is Community. Not one of us can do this alone, but together, in community we can accomplish the impossible, and that’s just what the Tehama and Butte team did. With a combination of Jennifer’s endless enthusiasm and Sheri Mitchell’s mighty courage, this dream team of Case Facilitators have spent the last year walking alongside Sherri to her dreams. Sherri was our second ever SLS client in Butte County. We had not even fully established a foundation there yet when Sherri came into our lives. She needed housing, transportation, wheelchair accommodations, and the list was endless. However, when someone enters our lives, we don’t see a task list of what needs done, instead we invite them into a relationship with us to share their dreams. November 25, 2019 – a day we won’t soon forget. The time finally came for Sherri to get the keys to her own home. After boarding the B-Line and before she could even be fully lowered down on the wheelchair ramp, Sherri was meant with the biggest cheer squad known to man – Jennifer Lopez jumping up in down to celebrate Sherri’s new freedom.
While still trying to establish a good support team, medical providers, wheelchair accommodations and more Sherri shared her next dream – a real Christmas tree. Every Christmas for most of her life, Sherri had the same artificial Christmas tree in her group home, but she so desperately desired the smell and feel of a real Christmas tree. That’s when Sherri’s new Community stepped in to make yet another one of her dreams come true. With ornaments shared from our Redding Office and a real tree delivered by Jennifer in just one month’s time Sherri’s dreams were rapidly becoming a reality.
After the beauty of the holidays wore off and we entered a season of COVID, that is when Sherri’s desire for freedom became even grander. She wanted an electric wheelchair – something that she could control where she went and when – yet another everyday choice so many of us take for granted. With the help of what Jennifer and Sheri call the “El Paso Posse,” Erica, Irene, Emily and Evaline spent months measuring for door extenders, organizing supply companies to come and see exactly what Sherri wanted and needed, until Sherri’s dream of getting a wheelchair that she controlled became a reality.
A lot of things have happened for Sherri in just less than a year with Compass. She got her own apartment, a real Christmas tree, and a wheelchair. But, Sherri gained something much more valuable -she gained a life where she is the Captain of her ship. Sherri now has her own clothes and decides which ones to wear – or even not wear! She gets quarters every week and does her own laundry. She is learning to manage her emotions by having deep, meaningful conversations with her staff to process through what she is feeling before acting out. She is a blessing to her community by going on walks through her neighborhood and picking up trash with her grabbers along the way. Just like Justice Ginsburg, Sherri is a tenacious trailblazer. Her story will inspire others to courageously decide to embark on their own journey of freedom. One thing I know for sure, this won’t be the last story of Sherri Walter as the Lady of Butte. This woman is just on her first chapter of unpacking an incredible legacy here at Compass alongside her ever wonderful CF, Sheri.