Here is the story about Debbie, one of our newest residents at New Hope in Versailles, MO. To say that her life has changed dramatically in the past few months would be an understatement. Through the entire process of her joining our family, it was evident that God was at work and we are forever thankful for her being with us.
There are over 1 billion people in the world affected by a disability. While some are born into loving families and nurturing environments, others are not that blessed.
I received a call from the Samaritan House, which is a homeless shelter in the area. The Director informed us that Debbie had recently been placed with them, but that placement might not be long term. Naturally they reached out to us to see if we had any openings. At the time, we only had a temporary opening at Riverwood, which was only about 2 weeks, but that we did have a permanent place in our Missouri location.
We knew very little information up front. We knew that this would be an emergency placement but what we didn’t know would be if Debbie would even be allowed to leave Tennessee.
We set up a time for us to meet with the Director and review Debbie’s case file. After all the releases were signed, we were handed a thin grey notebook. There was not much of Debbie’s story told in the pages. There was no birth certificate. There was no state identification. There was no Social Security card. There was not even a recent psychological examination done. Only a vague record of a person’s existence kept within a few pages of a thin notebook.
A few medical records with medications from when she was younger were there, but nothing recent.
“This is all you have? How long was she there?”
“That’s all they had,” said the Director. “I am not sure how long she lived there.”
Debbie had spent more than the last 20 years of her life in a facility where there such so little about her ever documented.
My heart broke and tears came before I even met her. How can people do this to each other? I just don’t understand.
All the residents that have been at New Hope and Riverwood convey a confidence in themselves in some way. There is always a light in their eyes when you look close enough. When I met Debbie, she had no light in her eyes. Her eyes were almost hollow. She looked as if her soul was just dried up. Her voice was soft and held no certainty of anything. I had to look away to keep her from seeing me cry. When I do these interviews, I always try to ask questions so that we can get to know each other a little bit. I asked her what kind of music she likes, what her favorite TV show is, her favorite food, and favorite color, etc. I share those same things with them about myself.
I asked Debbie about her family and she said that she didn’t know them.
We spent about 45 minutes all together. I asked Debbie if she wanted to move in with us at Riverwood for a couple of weeks. I then asked her if she would consider moving to Versailles, MO. She said that she would try going to Riverwood first. I told Debbie that we were going to try and get her moved in with us.
I left the meeting, went to my car and just wept. I called Gary Spangler, Executive Director of Ability Ministry, and between sobs, I told him Debbie’s story.
I said,” We have to bring her in.”
I called Becky Ritchie, House Manager of New Hope and said, “I have found a new resident for you.” I told her Debbie’s story, and then we cried together.
Within a few days, we had moved Debbie to Riverwood. Everything that she owned fit inside a few garbage bags.
During her brief stay at Riverwood, Debbie really started to blossom. She kept saying how much she liked being with us. We kept telling Debbie, Just wait until you get to New Hope, you’ll really like it there.
By the time we were ready to move to New Hope, we had Debbie’s birth certificate, a Tennessee State ID, and her psychological. (For those who have ever lost a birth certificate, or had to replace a Social Security card you know the difficulty that you sometimes encounter.)
God worked out every single detail!
We flew to St. Louis Mo, and met Becky at the airport. They arrived at New Hope later that afternoon. Debbie walked into her new home and found her new room to be filled with beautiful furniture. Becky said that Debbie just stood there in amazement, not really sure what to say, except “Thank You.”
The New Hope residents even had a welcome home party for her.
She spent the first 2 weeks getting acclimated to her new home. Becky said that Debbie kept saying, “I like it here, everybody is nice to me.” Deb now has her first job, working at Quality Industries. It’s a workshop directly across the street from New Hope. Almost every day Debbie says to the staff there “Thank you for letting me work. I like my job.” She also goes to church and worships with her “family”.
The ‘hollowness” that I saw in her eyes is fading, and a light has begun to shine in them. It has been replaced by the unconditional love of God. I’m not sure what other things God has in store for Debbie in the future, but I can’t wait to be a part of it!
In August of 1989, Rhonna was hired by the as a part-time resident manager and has worked her way up to the position of Director of Residential Services of the Riverwood Campus. Before coming to Riverwood, Rhonna attended Johnson University where she became involved in the Disability Ministry program. The residents of Riverwood refer to her as “Momma Rhonna” or “the other mother.”