Reflecting on the shut down due to the virus, I am amazed at how far we have all come.
I vividly remember the feeling of being trapped in my house, unable to visit my mom or to to hug our clients who looked like they needed a hug so badly.
COVID-19 was an avalanche. We couldn’t stop this monster, “the virus”, from upending our lives. My son became depressed and I couldn’t get him to go to bed or get up on time. My boyfriend quit his high risk job, and moved in to help me with André. Jacob’s father passed away from the virus, and I became terrified for my mother. I drove an hour and a half just to drop provisions to her home, and wave from the window, and it was so sad to see her all alone inside.
Immediately PDS got up and running and basically started a TV station on Zoom, with two channels per hour. In between crying and grieving, PDS staff smiled through their own pain, and put funny costumes on, dancing, singing, telling jokes and cheering on our vulnerable, sweet clients, through the most confusing and stressful time of our lifetimes.
Through hell or high water, we made it to clients homes, bearing gifts and affection from a 6 foot distance. As soon as we possibly could, we were quickly vaccinated and some of us even picked up clients and their families, and took them in our cars, to be vaccinated, essentially putting our own lives at risk.
Then after perfecting our Zoom program, PDS started making drastic moves to go back to work, in person. We helped our participants imagine and create their own clubhouse of sorts, designed after the set of the TV show, Friends. Because we couldn’t take them to Starbucks’s etc. we wanted this space to include a cafe like “Central Perk”. Finding a welcoming space that was big enough, on the ground floor, with bathrooms and sinks, was no small feat, while dealing with dishonest and greedy landlords.
Once we secured our wonderful location, during the hot summer months, we did manual labor, with masks on, moving furniture, unpacking boxes, and making endless trips to the dump. We tirelessly worked, as a team, to decorate and prepare for our clients triumphant return to in-person services.
The Friend Zone is now a sanctuary for everyone to stay safe and happy, with other people who are vaccinated. Our clients rotate in and out of their new clubhouse and other places we rent in the community as part of our “ Alternative Services”, until we go back to usual and everyone can work in paid jobs again.
PDS keeps “pivoting" and it feels like the “pivoting" never stops. At the Friend Zone, we’re learning a whole new way of providing services to our clientele. We’re navigating relationships and dealing with personalities, all under one roof. The number of times we have to unplug toilets and clean up bathroom accidents is astounding. Some people are still very worried about germs and breakthrough infections, and can be squeamish indoors and in vehicles.
To provide relief from always being together in the same building, we are taking amazing day trips in all sorts of weather to beautiful parks and beaches and to outdoor activities, such as the zoo and the Japanese Tea Garden. The staff are helping the clients cook amazing meals at private homes and competing with each other to see who can post the most gorgeous pictures of the impressive meals to our WhatsApp group.
Staff are so creative that last Friday they even pitched a tent outdoors so that they could pretend like they were camping and have fun, sheltered from the cold.
PDS staff are paid barely enough for them to even feed themselves in this economy in the Bay Area. Add to that the extra risk of the coronavirus and the discomfort of being tested once a week, and it’s a miracle we have any staff members left.
As of this writing two of our most valuable employees, Tsering and Cici, have both given notice. We already had two positions unfilled so now we are down 4 staff members! Because we are getting no interest in the ads we have placed, I have decided to eliminate one position and raise the staff salaries. That means more direct service for our administrators, including Jarrod and me.
Another blow has been that a participant decided to leave PDS without any notice. This creates a revenue problem for PDS, when we were already down a client for the entire fiscal year.
There are ways that you can help PDS continue to stay afloat and to thrive again.
You can donate to PDS.
You can get the word out that PDS has an opening and you advise people to let their social workers know that their interested in PDS. We need people who want our type of support and who will benefit from our services, not just people who are desperate for any program and don’t have a real interest in PDS for any other reason than because we have an opening.
You can advocate for PDS.
Together we can weather this storm and come through it stronger. I’m including photos of our WhatsApp posts to illustrate how enthusiastic and creative PDS continues to be, despite the challenges (everyone has signed releases for these photos to be shared).
With sincere appreciation for collaborating with PDS to improve the lives of people with disabilities,
PDS Founder and Executive Director