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The Stories of Life

Russell's Story

In a large brown house, on a quiet residential street in Pottstown, Russell is chuckling at his housemate Bob's antics. Bob touches a camera with his finger, and says "I'm like MC Hammer, can't touch this!"

Russell laughs loudly in response, and then declares "I like country music.

"I love Prince, too" replies Bob, and starts singing one of his favorite songs, while Russell continues to laugh. Russell and Bob, both new members of The Salvation Army Developmental Disabilities Program (DDP), are adjusting to their home and to each other. The DDP program enables individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities to live independent, fulfilling lives in community homes.

Russell, a 47 year-old gentleman with Down Syndrome, had enjoyed a pleasant life for 45 years in his Haverford home, when his father passed away. His mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's soon after, and had to move to a skilled nursing facility. Within a matter of months, Russell's life was uprooted.

Fortunately, for Russell, his three older brothers had promised his parents they would make the best decisions on Russell's behalf, and with Russell's input. Russell lived with two of his brothers temporarily in Canada and Connecticut, until his brother Ralph arranged for him to move back to Pennsylvania to live with their housekeeper of 30 years, Eloisa.

Russell lived comfortably with Eloisa, until her mother fell ill in Colombia and Eloisa had to make several trips to assist with her care. The instability of the situation prompted his caseworker to suggest The Salvation Army DDP program, which would provide Russell a permanent home and link him to innovative activities and programs, like the Community Options Program.

A group Salvation Army staff first went to meet Russell at the Lower Merion Vocational Center, where he spent three days a week doing housekeeping. "He showed pictures of his family to the group and talked like he had known everyone forever," said Linda Rex, The Salvation Army Montgomery County program director. The staff then invited Russell to the DDP Annual Picnic. "He fit right in with everyone and even won a prize for karaoke with his Michael Jackson imitation!" said Linda. After that, Russell spent a few weekends at one of the Pottstown homes before deciding that he would like to move in.

To make the transition as smooth as possible, his brother Ralph furnished Russell's large, private room with the furniture he had in Haverford and decorated it with all his possessions. When Russell walked in and saw pictures of family members lining the dresser, a poster of his favorite hockey player hanging above his bed, and his radio sitting on his desk, he felt right at home.

Since moving to the Pottstown home in November 2007, Russell has expanded his hobbies from country music to watching cowboy movies, dining out, bowling, horseback riding, swimming, playing basketball, fishing and gardening. He also joined the local YMCA, where he exercises and mingles with others from his new community.

Five days a week, he attends The Salvation Army DDP's Community Options Program in Pottstown, which Linda says, "has been a perfect fit for Russell, who likes to keep busy!" Through the program he delivers food for "Meals on Wheels", feeds animals at the SPCA and visits with patients at the local nursing home. He also helps out at The Salvation Army Pottstown Corps Community Center, working in the community kitchen, picking up and delivering mail, handing out bread and baked goods to the needy, and earning money for his janitorial and light housekeeping work.

"The program has provided Russell with a way for him to use his talents and energy to help others in need," says Linda. Russell also participates in recreational activities with other Community Options participants, in addition to educational opportunities, including visiting the library, and attending exercise and music classes.

Recently, Russell's brother Rook came to visit him from Canada and was impressed by Russell's commitment to the program. Russell refused to take the day off because he felt that his jobs were too important and he needed to be there! Rook followed him around for the day to see what Russell was doing and was so moved, that he visited The Salvation Army headquarters to personally thank the staff for having Russell in the program.

"He is a sweetheart," says Linda and then looks at Russell. "We are a part of your new extended family right?" she asks.

"That's right," Russell says, and gives a quick nod and a smile. Dedicated and caring staff, like Linda, have supported and helped Russell to adjust to the sudden changes in his life. Although he misses his parents deeply, Russell is enthusiastically building an active new life, filled with friends, laughter and, occasionally, sushi and a cold drink.

We are Proud to Note! Most recently, Residential Program staff at The Salvation Army Brooke Road home was recognized for their outstanding care and commitment by the Montgomery County Office of Developmental Programs at their Annual Awards Luncheon (March 2008). Supported employment participants have also been recognized throughout the years for their outstanding contribution to the community, including recognition by the State of Delaware Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities "Employee of the Year Award" (2006 and 2007). Community Options participants have been recognized by the Meals-on-Wheels Good Neighbor Award (2007) for providing consistent, reliable support and were also featured in PhillyCare's "Group Project Spotlight" for help supporting MANNA's meal delivery network in Philadelphia (December 2007).