My name is Frank Barella. I am the Director of Quality Improvement & Compliance at The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties. I am proud to say that I have known and served people who have intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families for over 20 years.
I began in 1983 (it pains me to say it) when I was still a student at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. I was hired by a residential service provider as a weekend-relief staff and assigned to the home of three women who had dual diagnoses (intellectual disabilities and mental health diagnoses). I went to work on Friday afternoon and stayed until Sunday evening, perfect for a full-time student. On weekends, we cooked, cleaned house, went shopping, watched movies together and laughed a lot. The ladies did not have very strong familial contacts or relationships and as their “paid” support, we filled a void. They depended on their staff the way that one depends on family. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, there were some low points also as the women struggled with jobs, money and social relationships. One of the women had major depression and sometimes was not able to get out of bed or eat for days, which presented a health and safety issue.
Of course, at the time I had no idea how the experience with these three women would shape my career path or that I would still be working in the field. At 19, I was ill-equipped to handle some of these issues and training was often “on the job”. Their names were Mildred, Becky and Ann Marie and they made a lasting impression on me. Mildred liked a good beef roast and potatoes for Sunday dinner, Becky was a flower child of the 60’s and loved music, while Ann Marie was shy and often withdrawn. Some of the early lessons about working with people that the ladies helped me to learn included:
- People are people, no matter who you are or where you come from;
- We all have hopes, fears, dreams and desires;
- We all learn differently.
I was with the women for about a year and a half mostly on weekends until I graduated from Moravian. I always knew that I wanted to help people in some way, shape or form and with graduation came the need for full-time work and increased responsibilities. I went on to manage several other residences, provided behavioral supports to people with I/DD for a number of years in PA and New Jersey, and spent twelve years in other, non-disability related non-profit management. When The Arc hired me for my current position, in a strange way I felt like I was coming home.
I know that at least two of the women have passed away over the years and I am sorry to say that I do not know about the third. While the career has moved forward and there have been many exceptional individuals and families over the years, whenever I pass through the neighborhood in Bethlehem and see the old house, I still remember my ladies and think of them with fondness.