For me, LABBB’s mission is personal.
The reason it is personal is that not only do we practice it every day in LABBB, but I also continue to live it with my sister with special needs. To begin, let me just remind you of our mission:
We design and deliver special education services that promote academic, social, and career independence.
The development of children’s academic, career, and social skills is the mission of every parent even after graduation. More importantly, independence will be at the center of everything that is discussed. Believe me, these three components are constantly brought up during Individual Support Plan (ISP) meetings, and they will be your focus at 22, 32, and beyond.
Of course, “academics” will look much different. Think of it this way: “What is it that my son or daughter needs right now to be more independent?” It could be learning how to manage a bank account, learning how to get along with others, travel training, doing their own laundry, shopping, or any other life skill. When the time comes for you to consider a group home for your son or daughter, these issues will be at the forefront of your mind. You will be asked, “How much support does your son or daughter need?” and “How independent is he or she?”
Ultimately, it comes down to the most important skill – independence.
At LABBB, we believe that every student should have a vision for his or her academic, career, and social (recreation) development at each stage of their life journey. For our students who graduate, skill development in these three areas will lead them to a more successful, meaningful, and independent life.
Think about academics, career, and social skills for a minute. Which one is most important? More specifically, which one will be most important when your child graduates? I strongly believe they are equally important; they are interdependent. Imagine not having social connections, or a job to go to every day, or not having the opportunity to continue to build your skills. Each student will need all three to move towards independence. Furthermore, when looking for a group home, it is essential to consider these three areas. I can’t emphasize this enough.
Our mission is not something we write and tuck away, only to be talked about when someone asks, “What is your mission,” or when we do a presentation, or to make us look like we are organized. Many mission statements just get written because someone says you need one. An organization should not write such a statement if it doesn’t know what it is or if it is not practiced every day.
We are passionate about our mission. It is what we do. We constantly talk about it. We engage our students and parents to talk about it while at LABBB, and you will still be talking about it after your son or daughter graduates. It will never leave you because it’s a lifelong mission.
The best way I can communicate this to you is to give the example of my sister’s journey. She lived with my parents until she was in her early 30s. However, she didn’t move towards becoming an independent adult until she transitioned into a group home about eight years ago. She still isn’t totally independent, but she is significantly more independent than she was eight years ago. It took about three or four years of living in her group home for her to acknowledge that this was her home now and that she needed to be a responsible adult to function in the house.
The skills that she needed to learn and continue to develop are as follows:
- How to live with others and get along. (Oh, how I wish I could communicate this to parents more emphatically, it was extremely stressful for my sister during her second and third years in the group home. The home was perfect, but if you can’t get along, follow the rules, and be part of the community, you can’t live there.)
- How to manage her money. (We are still working on this skill every week.)
- How to prepare meals and stay healthy. (More importantly, how to monitor her diet and nutrition, which we still need to watch closely. Health management and self-care is essential, and we need to stay on top of this all the time.)
- How to access transportation. (She has improved significantly with this skill.)
- How to be safe. (I could tell you stories about monitoring her social media and her phone that you could never imagine! Well, maybe you could, but it wasn’t an issue until she was moving towards independence. Teaching her how to be safe in her community is paramount to being independent.)
- How to do her job. (Did she get fired today? Why aren’t they giving her more hours? She came late to work! She will only do the job her way! My sister has had around seven different jobs since graduating. She finally has a steady job, which she has held for about 8 years, and her work ethic skills have finally started to sink in. We still struggle with getting her more hours.)
Although work hours are up and down, which is frustrating, her work ethic really has improved. She works at T.J. Maxx, and she understands what they expect of her. This took a long time. Please do not underestimate work ethic skills. They don’t just click in when they start working; they click in when maturity and a sense of responsibility develop with constant coaching. For my sister, this happened in her mid-30s. We went through many, many jobs with her along this journey. Many good people supported her, but sometimes it just wasn’t going to work out. As she became more independent, she became more responsible.
Imagine how your son or daughter can connect to their community. Our students need social connections and to be part of a community, just like they need food and water. To maintain a positive state of mind, they need be around people.
Fortunately, being part of this group home and being part of a supportive community has exceeded our expectations. My sister’s social life is rich, and she is active, and, therefore, her state of mind is very positive. The community she lives in is familiar with her group home. The residents use their community often, and the community helps them if needed.
Please, and I can’t emphasize this enough, do not undervalue the need for social connections and a sense of belonging. For our students to continue to build social interactions after they graduate, they need to be participating now. I will continue to write about building community over and over. A supportive community just doesn’t get built on its own, but it will be a significant support network for your son or daughter in the future.
My sister should have been living in a group home at a much earlier age, then she would be that much more independent today. However, it was a struggle for my parents to let her go; they felt that they could keep her safe. They would tell you now that if they had to do it all over again, they would have done this much, much earlier! Furthermore, they didn’t realize how long it would take her to learn the skills necessary to be independent. Traditional academic skills do not lead to independence; learning the right “academics” does.
I am not saying that LABBB’s mission is something you should believe in. I am stating, however, that having a mission will be essential for the future of your son or daughter. For me, the LABBB mission is something I strongly believe in because I experience it every day, both in and out of work. I have thought about posting this article in our newsletter permanently because it is that important.