When neighbors become family

Do For One promotes stronger communities and richer lives by bringing people excluded from freely given support into healthy and lasting relationships. We selectively match one person with disabilities (Partner) with another person who enjoys a more included life (Advocate). Friendship, spokesman ship, social support, and social change can emerge when people's gifts and concerns are brought into the center of community life.

(names changed for privacy) 

Cherry is a lifelong resident of Queens who formerly worked in construction. As an all around lover-of-people, her role as friend and advocate for a mother and daughter duo, Janice and Chloe was second nature.  

Janice, mother to adult daughter Chloe, is Chloe’s full-time caretaker. They met Cherry at a Do For One gathering when Cherry, a natural party hostess, asked the two if they needed anything; Janice politely declined but Chloe shocked her mother with a prompt drink order. The three mingled the rest of the evening and have been friends since. Cherry says she feels like they are family. She visits the two to hang out, gives them rides around town to run errands, and helps them clean. When the busyness of life inevitably catches up to them, they will simply call and talk on the phone.   

Cherry’s experience with her own family has greatly influenced her support of Janice and Chloe. Cherry has an aunt with Down’s Syndrome who, similar to Chloe, was fully dependent on her own mother. Cherry’s family was faced with many decisions when her aunt’s mother passed away, and worse, her aunt was faced with being without her mother and faced with drastically new circumstances for the first time in her life.  As a loving and honorary member of the Janice and Chloe’s family, Cherry has been able to share the mental and emotional burden of planning for Chloe’s future. 

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With the proper factors in place, it is truly beautiful when a family can care for their loved ones.  The advantages of being supported by relatives are innumerable. However, it is often difficult to plan for the painful transitions in family dynamics, such as the passing of a parent or primary caretaker. These preparations, however, can be especially critical for the individuals receiving care. New faces, new environments, and disrupted routines are tremendously stressful and the trauma can be compounded if they don’t fully understand why the changes are taking place. Planning for these changes not only brings peace of mind to the families of a disabled loved one, but it means their loved one has a better chance of thriving when the time for these changes arises. 

As seen with Cherry, Janice, and Chloe, Partners are privileged in some friendships to be treated as part of the family. When asked what she feels about the friendship, Cherry immediately replied, “Valued.”  Janice calls to simply say hello and with great sincerity checks in on Cherry’s wellbeing. The sweetness of their deep, mutual appreciation was evident, but also highlighted a common observation for Advocates: Partners are often chronically undervalued in their daily lives. Cherry described a conversation with Janice after a trip to the store, “She always apologizes a million times...says ‘you’re busy and I apologize for bothering you’.  They feel like they’re not important; after so many years of nobody caring they don’t believe they matter. I just took her shopping. It was no bother.”  

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The notion that a person is a bother for needing support is tragic. Frequent apologizing is a symptom of being treated as though their needs are less important than others. Many Partners indicate the deep appreciation they feel from the support they receive from their Advocate. Cherry passionately described the need for “webs of support” see the Circles of Support post for this community of individuals, essentially more people loving and serving more people.  

And she is right. It takes individuals intentionally being community for our friends with disabilities. Perfection is not required, only honesty, love, and committing to showing up. Slowly, with intentional love, education, and commitment, the paradigm within our culture can change to be more inclusive, supportive, and just. 

Kayli Capshaw 

P.S. The story continues with Cherry, Chloe, and Janice. Cherry is now advocating for supportive housing for them and recently became their point of contact for emergencies.