By Mary L. Collins
She is as feisty as they come and she clearly communicates her wants and needs. When Patty Grassette is present, there’s no hiding her light under any kind of barrel. One could even call her, “audacious”. Patty is a long time client of Green Mountain Support Services. Her dark chestnut hair and cheerful exuberance defies her age. At 50 years old, the only things that compete with Patty’s zest for life are the physical limitations she endures due to Cerebral Palsy. But even Cerebral Palsy won’t slow her down. Patty is on the go – almost every minute of every day.
“Patty doesn’t like to stay home,” she says, in her characteristic third person description of herself. And then she lets out a little wink and a grin as she confirms her “on the go” personal preferences with the two care providers who join her for our interview. They laugh and shake their heads affirmatively. “This is true,” says Brenda Donley, a Senior Service Coordinator who works with Patty, “Patty is not one to stay put!” Linda Belval, the second care provider, agrees, “She bowls, she swims, she attends GRACE up in Hardwick for arts and activities. We’re always on the move!” Yet, Patty Grassette loves the place she calls “home” and her home provider whom she considers a second mother – since her own passed away. Patty resides in Eden where she has lived the past 10 years and this stable family-based living arrangement is one of the core tenets of Green Mountain Support Services offerings.
Formerly known as Sterling Area Services , this private, non-profit, specialized service agency has managed and provided direct care services to individuals with developmental disabilities since 1988.
Presently, 87 individuals around the state are supported in family settings. These shared living and supervised living arrangements enable Sterling Area Support Services clients to be as independent as possible while also being fully part of the families and communities they call home. Executive Director, Dave Yacovone describes it this way, “Our client are as much a part of each family as anyone. They attend graduations, birthday parties, church services and join in on vacations and other travel. They are not separated in any way from the family. The only difference is that our clients have additional needs – and that’s where GMSS comes in. We provide that additional support our clients require to help them retain their rightful, active and integrated place in our communities.”
At Green Mountain Support Services, programs are designed around the individual and provide daily opportunities for people to work, learn skills, pursue interests and socialize within their community. GMSS provides Housing and Home Support, Transportation, Community Support, Respite, Case Management, Employment, Clinical, Crisis, Personal Care and School Contracts.
Why the name change?
“Our clients come from all over Vermont,” explains Yacovone. “Originally, the agency served North-Central Vermont and, while we are based out of Morrisville, our client are now far and wide and we wanted our name to reflect that.” Yacovone clarifies, “Our new name reflects that we provide support services in natural family, shared living homes and supervised living arrangements – not only to the “Sterling” region of the state but through- out Vermont. While our name will change to reflect this, our office address and commitment to providing support services to disabled and vulnerable Vermonters remains the same.”
Green Mountain Support Services makes its offices in Morrisville on Professional Drive. With a staff of more than 50 people and this central to northern Vermont office, Green Mountain Support Services can be felt in nearly every northern Vermont County. Clients like Patty work in the community, participate in church choirs, shop and live and receive health care and other services.
Client Jimmy Kavanagh says it this way, “Amy (his care provider) helps me get around town.” At 70, Kavanagh is still quite busy. He enjoys making people laugh as well as playing his harmonica which he keeps handy in a shirt pocket. “I’m the joker,” he says, “Everybody knows me this way.”
His favorite comedian, “Jackie Gleason. Oh boy, is he funny!” But not everything makes Jimmy laugh. His emotions are present in all forms and he readily admits that it’s not easy living with his disease. “I have Cerebral Palsy and I’m stuck in this wheel chair,” he says, with frustration and a measure of some resignation. Yet, Kavanagh also says, “I have a photographic memory.” And it’s this memory that he relies on to tell his jokes and play songs on his harmonica. Living with the physical limitations presented by Cerebral Palsy clearly do not slow Jimmy Kavanagh’s mind.
That’s an important distinction many of Green Mountain Support Services’ clients are eager to explain. “I need help getting around, that’s all,” he states. There are no limits to his interests, activities, and desire to have as meaningful a life as any person who is fully able bodied.
Amy Touchette, a care services provider who works with Jimmy and others says, “There are many people in our community who need the help of Green Mountain Support Services to access work opportunities and to enrich their lives and live a more full life.” She underscores her statement by explaining how differently Jimmy’s life would be without someone like her to be there to assist. “Even things like voting, something many of take for granted, I make sure my clients can get out to their polling place and vote. It’s crucial for them to be actively engaged in life in their communities. I just help make it happen.” For Kavanagh, Amy is more than a care provider, she is a good friend. “I tell you,” he says, “I’m not giving her up.”
What is evident in all of these relationships is the balance that is struck between the care provider and the client. All decisions are lead by the client and responded to with respect and consideration by the care provider. There is a reciprocity between them that is dignified and courteous and also playful and good natured – as one would expect in a trusted friendship.
Patty says it this way, “My family cares about me deeply and they also care about the people taking care of me and watching over me. I can’t say enough good things about them.” For her, the bottom line is that Green Mountain Support Services is like a big family.
“We look out for each other,” she says. “Clients come together often and I can reach out to Brenda or Linda anytime if I just need to talk with someone.” Mostly she just wants people to know, “People need to listen to me. I’m outspoken. I’ve got good ideas. And I’m happy. I have Cerebral Palsy. It affects my muscles, not the way I think. And Brenda, Linda and my other care giver Tina, help me do the things I can’t do on my own. But I definitely know what I want and how I want to live my life.”
Executive Director Dave Yacovone sums it up by saying, “We’ve come a long way in this country in our understanding and service to those who are differently-abled. And there are many people committed to giving of themselves so that others can have more. It’s a commitment we can’t renege on. I’ve seen people who were despairing, lonely, alone. And I’ve seen them brought to a different place. I’ve seen them find comfort, relationships and a sense of belonging. And I’m so grateful to be part of a system like the one here at Green Mountain Support Services that help them find a better place.”