Person-centered planning lets individuals decide what's best

People helping people

Alice Cunningham

Hi-Hope Service Center

"One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar." - Helen Keller

Jerry's speech isn't always clear. But when he was asked at a meeting last February to name one thing important to him that he had never done, there was no mistaking his response: "I want to vote."

Nine months later, after closely following campaign coverage on the television set in his group home and being trained on the county's touch-screen voting machines, Jerry and several other Hi-Hope clients with developmental disabilities voted in the Nov. 7 elections.

Posing for a quick photo to commemorate the personal milestone, Jerry pulled open his gray jacket to make sure his "I'm a Georgia Voter" sticker was visible to the camera. And in the van afterward, he and his housemates discussed their foray into Georgia politics.

"Watch Perdue get it," predicted David, voting for the first time at the age of 65. "Sonny Perdue, you're my man. That's my governor."

With a lift in his voice, Jerry added: "Watch tonight on TV Channel 2 to see who won!"

Jerry's dream to be a registered voter was one of many that took flight in 2006, as Hi-Hope embraced a more "person-centered" approach to services.

"The whole purpose of person-centered planning is to reflect the individual's desires and dreams in the services we provide - so the services they receive are led by them, not by an expert's opinion of what is broken but what is in their hearts to do," says Carol Shockley, director of our new Self-Determination of Services Project. "Life is not a program. It is not something served to you, decided for you, or controlled by anyone else. Life is life, and person-centered planning just allows someone the support they need to live it."

In the first year of our project, 20 clients participated in person-centered planning meetings.

"These sessions really were celebrations of the unique gifts and capabilities of each client," says Carol. "We asked the client about his or her interests and dreams. Then the support team would brainstorm an action plan, identify any available supports in the community and find ways to adapt Hi-Hope's services to help the client have the best life possible."

While it will be at least two years before all of our clients go through the new planning process, the changing philosophy already is impacting all of our service areas.

Our community employment specialists have found more jobs in the community for clients who said they wanted to work. Our group home residents have begun running their own client councils - one council recently decreed that there will be more parties and no fish dinners. Our work-shop clients last April elected the center's first Client Council. Some of our more socially minded clients are enjoying Hawks games, movies and lunch on the weekends, bowling, weekly visits to the Buford Senior Center and leisure classes. And every day around Hi-Hope center, the creative use of assistive

technology is opening communication portals that just astound us.

None of this incredibly meaningful progress in 2006 would have been possible without the private support of this community. While public funding reimburses us for basic services, only private dollars pay for the cutting-edge innovations that are making such a difference in our clients' lives.

I want to invite you to be a part of this Gwinnett County success story. In six weeks, we will host our largest fundraiser of the year, and there is still time to make a reservation.

Hi-Hope's 28th Annual Hi-Stakes Gala will be at 6 p.m. March 17. It is a black-tie optional affair at the Gwinnett Center. With live entertainment, dancing, free faux-casino gambling, live and silent auctions, a cash bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres, it is always fun. For information, call Monti Beach at 770-963-8694. Or go to our Web site at www.hihopecenter.org.

Together, I promise, we will see hopes soar.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Alice Cunningham of the Hi-Hope Service Center.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.