Fran Hoard's Story

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FH: My name is Fran Hoard. My daughter is developmentally disabled and lives in a licensed group home operated by Residential Opportunities, Inc.

PRB: I'm Patricia Ressler-Billion. I work at Residential Opportunities, Inc., where Fran's daughter receives services.  A few months ago, Fran held us spellbound, when she shared her personal story about having two children with disabilities. Fran, can you tell us a bit more about your two daughters?

FH: I have two daughters, Nancy and Jeannie. Nancy is the oldest. She lived at home until she was four years old. We thought everything was alright with her at first, and then we started noticing some developmental delays when she was about one-year-old.  By then, we were already expecting Jeannie, our second daughter. We had both of the girls at home with us until Nancy was four and Jeannie was three. The girls didn't walk on their own and it became difficult for me to lift them. Jeannie did crawl and was somewhat faster than her sister Nancy, but the doctor told us that Nancy was going to need physical therapy in order to walk. However, in the 1950's, you couldn't find physical therapy for a person with a mental disability at either of the local hospitals. The only place we could find physical therapy services for Nancy was at Fort Custer State Home, a 1,200-bed institution in the army barracks in Battle Creek. As for a school for Nancy, our church said that she couldn't go to the church school, and that it was very unlikely that she would be allowed to go to the public school in Comstock, due to her disability of being severely mentally impaired.

So, we looked further into the institution at Fort Custer, and Nancy went there at the age of four. When she was 11, received physical therapy and she learned to walk, so we accomplished what we wanted. And it was good, because we couldn't have carried her by then. It would've been really difficult. Nancy was nonverbal, and she stayed at the institution and had very little opportunity for education. I joined the Parent Association at Fort Custer and become more involved. We had a very active parent group there that included families from the Detroit area and beyond. When I eventually became president of the Parent Association, I started working more with advocacy at the state level through ARC, or Association for Retarded Citizens, which it was called at that time. Then some movement began and some of our more capable individuals with disabilities began living in the community, getting employment, and things started shifting. Eventually, they closed Fort Custer State Home and from there, many went to live at Coldwater, which is what Nancy did. Now it was the early '70's and I was on boards that worked on developing homes in the community for individuals with disabilities, and we were working on the two larger group homes that we have here in town. In 1974, Nancy ended up going into the Douglas House. It didn't work out well and we couldn't figure out what some of the problems were. We discovered in 1977 that she Nancy totally blind, and that she had retinitis igmentosa. Her sister also has the condition. It's a degenerative disease causing two-thirds of the people who have it to go blind. Nancy did eventually go totally blind and spent the next several years in a foster care setting. Then, at age 30, she went into the ROI system. In my opinion, the ROI system is better able to help you provide the services that you need, because they can work with Social Security and be a representative payee. There are many, many more things that they can offer than a foster care home.

PRB: How is it different than when your children were young and little?

FH: When they were little, they played with each other on the floor and enjoyed each other's company, and we've always kept contact with Nancy. We bring her home to be with us every other weekend. Coldwater was 50 miles each way! So that was a long way to drive.

PRB: As a mother, what words do you have for having your child go to a place like Fort Custer. What was that for you, personally?

FH: I don't think it's necessary now, because services are available in the community and people look at people with disabilities as 'able' rather than 'disabled.' More professionals are available in the community now. In the past, we only had Dr. Heersma and Dr. Margolis available to us. And then, Dr. Kercher came to town, giving us three doctors as an option. In the 1970's there were very few options and a lot of families in Kalamazoo needed services and couldn't get them.

PRB:  How are your daughters doing now?

FH: They're doing really well. Nancy lives in an ROI home and participates in programs offered by WMU Center for Disability Services (CDS). She has one-on-one care 20-27 hours a week, and they take her out in the community where she takes in all kinds of experiences, plays with animals at pet centers and goes out for coffee, gets her nails done and things like that. She enjoys meeting people and being part of the community.

Nancy lives in a home near Vicksburg. It's a small town and they're very receptive to her so she loves it there and is very happy with her program. She has a college student that takes her swimming. They now do what's called a 'person-centered plan' for each individual they serve, which includes a team of professionals, parents and family members who help define her interests and how she likes to spend her time and then they work to make the plan and execute the plan. ROI works closely with the people from CDS. Nancy is very happy with her plan, and she's happy to come home and visit with us, and she's happy to go back to her ROI home, so it's wonderful.

PRB: And she's an artist, right?

FH: She's our artist. She's done some artwork, which has been very interesting. She's very proud of it and all smiles. One of the biggest things in her life was when she came back from Coldwater into the community. She went to the Croyden Avenue School and she learned sign language, so she doesn't spell out the words, but she has the sign for a word and when people learn her signs, they can communicate with her and that's really important to her and makes her very happy.

PRB: I see that on her face. That's great.

FH: Our daughter Jeannie, who stayed at home all these years, went to Comstock to the regular kindergarten, but we were always told that she could be put out if the teacher said they didn't want to deal with her. But she did manage to stay in kindergarten, but they wouldn't accept her in first grade. Then the Kennedy Center opened up. That was for trainable, educable, borderline individuals, and so forth. And she went there until the last three years, until she was 23, and then she went to Kalamazoo Central, to Special Ed programs, and she graduated from that program.

PRB: Oh, congratulations! Wow.

FH: Yes, she worked 13 years as a dietary aide at the Upjohn Community Nursing Home. Now he goes to MRC and takes classes and I feel very strongly that the education she gets in money management and stress management and getting out in the community and meeting people and she's in drumming and in piano, so she has a lot going for her. She took part in Special Olympics when she was younger. She can't do the back rolls and gymnastics anymore, so she had to give that up.

PRB: Did you ever think this would be like this for them?

FH: You know, right now it's very good. I worry about them when I'm gone, because my husband and I don't have any other children and we don't have any other relatives in town now. They were all older than us, so we have to count on the agencies and that's why, for years and years, I've volunteered on boards of every agency going. [laughs]

PRB: You've really assured your children's future, Fran. You're working to that, I can see that.

FH: It's the only way I know.

PRB: You have a lot to be proud of. That's quite a story. And you've been so much a part of it, to make it happen in this community. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

FH: Well, I think we're a lucky community and very lucky to have ROI here to provide residential and support services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

PRB: We're lucky to have you, too, so it's quite mutual.