Working Through Alternatives to Guardianship
In recent years, there has been a movement to reduce the number of guardianship’s in Michigan. In Midland County, The Arc of Midland and the Probate court have worked together to terminate a number of DD guardianship’s and to try to reduce the number of new guardianship’s each year. We met with Jen G. who through self determination, terminated guardianship with the help of The Arc of Midland.
Jen’s personal mission: To get as many people as she can to live the life that they want.
The Arc: What was your life like before The Arc of Midland became your guardian?
Jen: I was 22 years old and I had just left the nursing home I was living in. My foster parents took me out of the nursing home and I became highly influenced by people that said they would be my family. At that point, I would do anything that anyone wanted me to if they said they would be my family. I was living with these groups of people, sometimes they didn’t pay rent or would use illegal substances. They received $3,000 a month for caring for me. Yet they couldn’t pay their rent and the bills were overdue and we were getting shut off notices. I was paying my part of the rent, but they weren’t paying their portion. I met Jan Lampman and Rebecca Schuman in 1998.
The Arc: These were people you considered safe friends?
Jen: Oh yes! I definitely thought they were good friends. Now I realize, they were not so good friends, and in the midst of all of this happening, I was not being medically taken care of. I was hospitalized due to poor hygiene and had such a bad infection that it was affecting my kidneys. I went to the doctor by myself my body was a gray color. The reality was that I was nearly dying because of the poor decision that I had made to befriend these people.
The Arc: That must have been a scary and life altering experience. What were some of the life lessons you took from it?
Jen: What I’ve learned through that experience is that it’s not that people with disabilities don’t want the help, but when people with disabilities crave family and that dynamic, we will find it wherever we can. I have great support now, but I still struggle with trusting people to help care for me. When I was younger I was in the foster care system, and it was not a great experience. I have to keep telling myself that people who get paid to take care of me do care about me. I still have a relationship with my foster parents and my adoptive parents, but they’re not involved in my everyday life. There were also people who were nervous about me becoming my own guardian, but I have the same supports that I had when I had a guardian. I had the confidence of knowing everything would be fine. I’ve shown everyone that I can do this.
The Arc: Tell me about when The Arc of Midland became your guardian.
Jen: The Arc of Midland became my guardian in 2009. I lived with the people I previously mentioned who I thought were my friends for 8 years. Jan was always there to help me when I needed it. Around that same time I got involved with another group who said they would be my family and I got taken advantage of again. I said enough is enough. Multiple times I had nearly died. After that experience learned about real relationships through my direct support staff who became like family and taught me about the type of safe people to be around. Even though some of my direct support staff don’t work for me anymore they are still like family to me. They are a part of my circle and always will be. Through all of this, my life has been fulfilled because now I have Amy, who is technically my roommate, but she is more like my sister. In 2009 when I first met with Jan and Rebecca they asked me what was my ultimate dream in life? I told them I want to own my own house. I want to have something that is mine and I am responsible for. In 2010, I was working at the Arc and they asked me if I still wanted to own a house. I was only on regular SSI at the time and didn’t believe that I could afford one. They mentioned that I could get survivor benefits through my mom. In March of 2009, I started working with the building trades program through the local schools to design my dream home and I began building my credit score with the help of Michelle V.
The Arc: At this point, you have your dream home in the works and a great group of friends who are more like family, did you start to feel confident about having your guardianship terminated?
Jen: YES! In fact, my guardianship with The Arc was terminated in November 2018. The Arc is still guardian of the estate to assist me with my taxes. This has given me the freedom of having to get permission. It was hard after 20 years of having to ask for permission to not having to ask for approval for everything. I learned in the beginning to trust The Arc and CMHCM, but it took me years to learn to open up to them and be honest to be my biggest allies.
The Arc: What would you say to those who are working towards their goals?
Jen: I have been teaching self-determination for 15 years. I teach that anything is possible. That if you have dreams you can reach them. I teach parents to let their kids be kids and that they shouldn’t have a lot of restrictions. That their kids need to have the support they need to accomplish their goals. It’s so important to have self-determination. I am so thankful to have met Jan and Rebecca. If I would’ve stayed in the negative environment when I was younger, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. I am very proud of how my life turned out through the ups and downs. Remember to always follow your dreams!