It is such a privilege for me to be the new Vice President of Disability Services at JF&CS. After many years living and working outside of Massachusetts, I am thrilled to have returned to this area and excited to be part of such an amazing organization. I have joined a talented and compassionate team of colleagues who are invested in providing exceptional services to our participants and their families.
Like many people in this field, I had a family member with a developmental disability.
My grandmother's older sister, Dora Goldsmith, was born with disabilities that impacted her cognitive and physical development. The oldest of three children, Dora lived with her family in Winthrop until her mother died when Dora was 16. My grandmother and her brother were sent to live with different relatives, but no one would take Dora. So my great-grandfather brought her to the Wrentham State School. Dora lived at Wrentham for the next 40 years.
In the 1960's, as the state tried to address the overcrowding and poor conditions at Wrentham, Dora was moved to the Cushing Hospital in Framingham. That is when I got to know her. I would visit her with my mother and grandmother every couple of months, and each summer she stayed with my grandparents for a few weeks. Dora was a kind and dependable companion to me; we played cards and jacks and board games – I looked forward to her visits and we were both sad when she had to go back to Cushing.
Although Cushing was definitely an upgrade from Wrentham, Dora spent most of her time in a large "day room" doing puzzles and knitting items like potholders. She never attended school or received educational services, but she could read, write, use a calendar, and do basic math. Her mother must have taught her all of these skills as a child.
My grandmother learned to accept Dora's living situation, but I never did.Although the group home movement had taken hold in the 1970's, the state decided Dora was too old to live in the community.
In 1976 my grandmother received notification from the state that they were moving Dora out of Cushing and into a nursing home in Brookline. And that is where she spent the final 15 years of her life. When she died at the age of 88 there were just a few of us at her funeral.
Since joining JF&CS, I have reflected on what a perfect place this would have been for her. When I attend our Shabbat dinners and see the community that is created, I know that Aunt Dora would have found friendship and spirituality. When I talk with participants about their volunteer work, I can picture how proud Aunt Dora would have been to help others. And I imagine that with support, she could have held a job and had financial independence.
I have often thought about how different Dora's life would have been if she were born 50 years later. Her experience inspired me to choose a career in this field. My personal vision is that every one of our participants finds purpose, friendship, community, joy, and meaning in their lives.