Lebanon County, PA – For Jose, weekly visits to the laundromat are no ordinary chore. It’s something he does with his Developmental Disabilities Services Advocate Frances Rimby. And for him, it represents independence.
“I wash dishes, make coffee, but with laundry, I do that the best,” he said proudly.
Rimby works for Lebanon & Schuylkill Counties Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a national nonprofit in 32 states and the District of Columbia that provides community-based services as an alternative to out-of-home placements like youth incarceration, congregate care, and residential treatment. YAP’s Advocates and other frontline staff are trained to help program participants see their strengths, provide them and their families with wraparound services, and connect them with tools to help them thrive.
At age 60, Jose, like some of the nonprofit’s other Intellectual Disabilities/Autism program participants, is older than the average YAP program participant.
“When I started working with Jose, I was a little nervous because I had never worked with an older adult before,” Rimby said. “Once Jose and I felt comfortable working together, my nervousness went away; I tried to make things fun.”
Rimby’s work with Jose is consistent with the organization’s mission to provide individuals who are, have been or may be subject to compulsory care with the opportunity to develop, contribute and be valued as assets to their communities. YAP’s services, which include zipcode matched program staff recruitment, offer safe, effective, culturally responsive and economical alternatives to institutional placement.
“When I started working with him in 2016, Jose washed his clothes at home. He had a washing machine, but he didn’t have a dryer, so he would hang them to dry on a line and a lot of times, he’d put them away damp and wear them that way,” Rimby said.
When Jose’s washing machine broke, Rimby saw an opportunity for him to change his routine and learn some new skills.
“I started taking Jose to the laundromat where he had never been before. By showing him the steps to washing and drying clothes, he started to do things on his own without guidance,” she said. “He also started counting the number of quarters needed to wash and dry clothes.”
Jose lives alone with support from a cousin who buys his groceries and makes sure other personal needs are met.
“I saw that Jose had the ability to do anything he wanted to whether by encouragement or being shown. Jose enjoyed being active and being outside so we would go to the park to walk the trail or play tennis. He also enjoys being involved in Special Olympics sports — tennis, basketball, volleyball, bowling — so I would take him to some of the practices,” Rimby said.
The laundromat visits, along with walks to the park and other activities with Rimby also give Jose a chance to get to know his neighbors and make new friends.
“Jose used to struggle with talking to people he did not know in the community. Over the years, I showed him how to be friendly by saying hello, good morning, or afternoon to people.,” Rimby said. “He now will talk to people that he sees often at the same place and have a conversation with them.”
Rimby said since working with Jose, she’s more patient and confident and looks at life differently.
“Jose has always made me welcome when I enter his home by asking me how my day has been,” she said. “I could be having a rough day and Jose is always able to put a smile on my face.”