The halls at United Cerebral Palsy Central California’s Fresno center are eerily quiet most days.
The “board room” sits empty. No students dancing to the beats belting out of the speakers while a game of Just Dance plays on the projector screen.
A refurbished kitchen area waits for UCPCC’s “chefs” to whip up something delicious to sell at the student store on Fridays.
Adjusting to the “new normal” – or the “normal for now” – has taken some time.
While we have closed our doors to the public in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, social media has been that family member who organizes all the family holidays and barbecues. UCPCC’s Facebook page has been saturated by students and staff commenting and staying connected.
“This is a great thing you’re doing,” wrote Marjet Friebe-Knight when Emily Mercado, UCPCC’s adult program student advisor read a book on Facebook.
When packets of projects were sent out to students, Melissa Bradford commented on Facebook, saying, Shawnee was so excited to get mail! Thank you for putting this together.
Everyone is missing one another. Teachers are missing that in-person time when one of their young students reaches a pivotal milestone. Staff members are missing the faces in the bus when they bring students to one of our UCPCC sites for the day.
But Everyone is adjusting. That’s the word you hear most often: adjusting.
For Karen Garcia’s son Jonny, sheltering in place has had it’s ups and downs.
He’s had a few hospital visits after an accident early in this new reality.
“He’s Mister Diehard: In twenty-six years … he’s never had a hospital stay. Then this,” Garcia says of her son.
Garcia says not having the consistency of coming to UCPCC’s adult programs center in Fresno has been challenging.
“It’s been super hard keeping him entertained and happy,” Garcia says. “He’s missing the socialization so much.”
Garcia says Jonny has been missing his fellow UCPCC students and staff members so much he often calls out to folks walking by their home from their front door just to have the interaction.
“We appreciate (UCPCC) having (staff) come by and drop projects off,” Garcia says. “This isn’t just for Jonathan – I feel like our whole family is cared for in this.”
Jonny and his family have been enjoying the videos that UCPCC staff post on the UCPCC Facebook page. He and Garcia even worked on a piece of art together.
“I never dreamed that there could be such a great program,” Garcia says of UCPCC. “There’s no doubt by the way Jonathan comes home … how staff engage with him. He’s not just some person. He’s built a life there.
“He’s richly blessed, and we are richly blessed.”
Jose Rocha says the transition from coming into UCPCC’s Parent and Me program in Hanford during the week and having sessions with a teacher through video chat has been seamless because the “transition was already there.”
“Me and Gracie already had a routine at home,” Rocha says. “Luckily, we have our video chats. Rocio (Gracie’s teacher) has bright ideas, … and I try to incorporate that.”
Unfortunately, what is missing is the social interaction with peers in the weekly program setting and Gracie’s teacher getting to see her meet milestones – like becoming more adept at using her walker.
“She is a routine baby,” Rocha says of Gracie, who is almost three years old. “You can tell for a baby like Gracie she does notice … ‘Hey at this time I’m supposed to be here.’ What I’ve been doing is showing her a baby sign language class with kids running around – it’s like an illusion but it works for the moment.
“As long as she’s still smiling and laughing and having fun, I know I’m on track.”
For Brian Sturgeon, who participates in program at The Nest, consistency is key.
“I just can’t wait ‘til we go back,” Sturgeon says. “That will make me so happy.”
Sturgeon, 68, says he has enjoyed getting materials that UCPCC staff have been taking out to students and their families, especially the puzzles he’s been able to put together while sheltering in place.
Sturgeon talks to his mother, Vonny, at least twice a day, he says, keeping her up to date on the news of the day. And his mom sends him dinner on the weekends as a change of pace.
Vonny says she knows Brian misses the faces of his fellow UCPCC students and staff, but that she’s thrilled and amazed with how his spirit and attitude is. And Vonny attributes part of that to his time at UCPCC.
“He misses his program, he says,” Vonny explains, “but he tells me that he’s not devastated. … He’s a computer nerd and news junkie. So he’s keeping me up to date.”
Vonny Sturgeon, who helped found UCPCC and is director emeritus of the UCPCC board, can attest to the importance a day program like UCPCC means to students like her son Brian.
“Consistency of life is why UCP is so important,” Vonny says. “Connecting with the world … It’s been a powerful influence on his life in every way. Physical, emotional, spiritual – every way that you can think of it’s enhanced his life.”