Janet’s Story

janet-in-yard-with-motherIt was 1958. Dwight David Eisenhower was president of the United States, Nikita Kruschev was the Premier of the Soviet Union, the USSR was performing nuclear tests every time you turned around, and America was dealing not only with its fear of communism and war, but with serious racial issues. It was only three years after Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus she was taking home after a long day’s work in Montgomery, Alabama.
America was facing its challenges, not only from outside, but from inside as well.

On the other hand, it was still a simpler and more innocent time. Eight of the top ten shows were westerns, led by Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. The Everly Brothers “All I have to do is dream” was topping the charts, with classics like Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” right up there as well.

Baby boomers were still popping up everywhere. Some people you’ve probably heard of such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Joan Jett, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alec Baldwin, and Jamie Lee Curtis were all born in 1958. So was a beautiful little girl named Janet Ives.

Janet was born in Memphis, Tennessee and was diagnosed early on with cerebral palsy, which in turn would bring a life of problems with movement and posture, problems with vision and speech, and intellectual disability.

So, that was it. No bright future for Janet. No education. No job. No relationships with friends like herself. No hopes. No dreams. Nothing to look forward to except a lifetime of isolation, of being different, and the eventual challenges of aging prematurely from the stress and strain CP causes on the body and its organ systems.

This was 1958, and the world wasn’t only still struggling with people who were of a different race or ethnicity – it simply did not have a place for people like Janet. The family’s doctor, who was also a family friend, told them Janet would likely never walk or talk. Janet’s family was told it would be best to put her in an institution and to move on with their lives.

But one thing the world has always had is fiercely protective mothers who do not accept that the world does not care to make a place for their children. That is Home of Hope’s story. It is also Janet’s story.

Janet’s father John traveled for a living in automotive sales. In 1969, the year of man’s first steps on the moon, Woodstock, Sesame Street, and “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, John got a transfer and the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Janet was eleven years old, and needed turning and a lot of exercise – neighbors came in to help every day.

Janet went to the Dallas Academy, where she learned to swim from instructors who were members of the SMU swim team. Janet went to Wilson Junior High and was mainstreamed at Williams High School. Mainstreaming, in the context of education, is the practice of educating students with special needs in regular classes during specific time periods based on their skills. This means regular education classes are combined with special education classes. For that to happen, there have to be special education classes. Wilson had no special education classes – until Doris called and wrote letters to everyone from school officials to the school board to a state Senator. Because of those relentless calls, not only Janet but other children in Plano, Texas received special education services that didn’t exist until that day.

It was the 1970’s now, and racial issues of who could ride where on the bus were long resolved, but Janet was not allowed to ride the school bus. Even though the school was just around the corner, other kids were allowed the ride the bus, and Doris was not going to allow Janet to miss out on that. So the calls began again, and by now the world knew not to bother resisting.

High School was moving along and the future was approaching fast. There were no resources where they were to further Janet’s life, and John and Doris were determined that Janet was going to participate in everything that life had to offer. She was going to have a place she could call home. She was going to have fun things to do, and friends to do them with. She was going to have a job. She wasn’t going to miss anything, anything, that anyone else got to have in life.

John and Doris literally traveled around the country looking for the right opportunity for Janet, traveling as far as New York, before deciding Home of Hope could offer everything Janet needed to have the rich and fulfilling life they wanted for her. Janet’s three older children weren’t convinced though, so the whole family came up and spent two days visiting Home of Hope before deciding this was the place to genuinely give Janet a future.

Janet graduated from Williams High School in May, 1977. Her mother became an R.N. at 50 because of her desire to be able to understand and do what was best for Janet, and moved with Janet from a Dallas, Texas that at that time already consisted of more than 900,000 people to get Janet connected to a program in a Vinita, Oklahoma that even today has 5,600 people (maybe).

Janet moved to Home of Hope, to our ICF program. She sang with the “High Hopes” and in the first singing group at Home of Hope, called “Promises,” and participated in Special Olympics (swimming) before her diagnoses with cataplexy in May of 2000.
Although Janet’s parents have both since passed away, Judy, Janet’s sister, still drives from Dallas for Janet’s doctor appointments.

Janet enjoys watching movies, listening to music, and shopping for clothes. She likes to watch Walker, Texas Ranger, westerns, I love Lucy, and the Dick Van Dyke show. She also likes to go out to eat (she likes steak). She talks about her family constantly, and flies home regularly to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the 4th of July with her family. They drive up to see her in between. She talks to her sisters on the phone daily, and says she is Judy’s alarm clock, calling her at 6:30 or 7:00 AM – “she has to go to work!”

Janet says things important to her are living in the group home, family pictures, and phones. She spends her own money on clothes, and likes that she earns her own paycheck. When I asked her what she likes most about Home of Hope, her first answer was “work.” Janet also loves children though, and has lots of nieces and nephews she enjoys seeing and playing with.

When I asked Janet what things are hard for her, she said “getting the bathroom cleaned before I have to go to work in the morning.” Janet doesn’t think in terms of her disability. She thinks in terms of her everyday life. That was her mother’s dream, and it’s ours as well.