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Yes, She Knows She's There
The update to Does She Know She's There?
by Nicola Schaefer
Nicola Schaefer has done it again! Her first book (a best seller) regaled us with the struggles of Catherine (her daughter) and Nicola enroute to making a life. Now, a decade after Catherine moved into her own home in Winnipeg, that story - told as only Nicola can. A 'must read' for every family even thinking about dealing with children approaching adulthood. A powerful vision of hope, laced with reality and a liberal dash of fun.
A Decade of Success
On July 18th, 1986, days before her 25th birthday, Catherine moved from her parents' house into her own home. It was an exciting, somewhat anxious time, the culmination of about two years of planning and hard work on the part of many people. Everyone had been eager to help Cath create a home for herself where she would have both the necessary paid, live-in support and the freely given friendship and help of others living in the two upstairs apartments. Could such a novel arrangement work?
In the succeeding years there have been wonderful times at 822 Preston, and many equally wonderful people have been - and in some cases still are - an important part of Catherine's life, and she of theirs. It hasn't always been perfect - what household is? - but we can now say that it not only could work, it has worked, and we hope and believe it will continue to do so. This book celebrates Cath's 35th birthday and the 10th anniversary of her move. Meet her housemates, enjoy her life.
Bob Perske: We could call this book "Mothers know Best." Nicola's instincts for her daughter guided and created a life for Catherine that not even Nicola imagined. If God had granted me the chance to choose my mother, I would have chosen Nicola Schaefer. Nicola is truly a great storyteller and this is truly a great story.
John O'Brien: This is a book for anyone who wants to see how staying faithful to realizing a positive vision changes community life for the better. It contains great practical wisdom about developing and maintaining support around people with disabilities and their families and deep understanding of the experience of parenting. Study this book if you want to make a meaningful difference in the life of a person with a disability.
Judith Snow: Yes, Catherine truly has been here for us for many years. Her pioneering of home ownership for people who are supported through caring relationships is a guiding light for anyone breaking out of institutional living. A great book.
Jeff Strully: When I think about the people who have helped guide our family forward, there has always been Nicola and Catherine. They have been ahead of everyone - pushing the envelope forward. Nicola continues to be on the leading edge - thinking in beautiful, brilliant colors, pushing the dream, giving hope, inspiration and energy to the journey.
Ted Schaefer: Oh God.
So what's so unusual about a young woman moving out and setting up her own household in the company of four or five friends?!? Why would her mother write a book about it?!?
Catherine Schaefer is the subject of Nicola Schaefer's first book, Does She Know She's There and now an update, Yes, She Knows She's Here. Catherine has forged ahead in living her life - ordinary in many extraordinary ways. Catherine does not speak in conventional words although she is articulate in her own ways. She doesn't move her body much though she moves people and governments. Catherine has intellectual impairments and her compassion and wisdom are legendary.
Through this book we are treated to the ground breaking work that Catherine, her friends and family have accomplished in buying an ordinary home and setting up a supportive household. In the late '90's, living in one's own home is still controversial in the world of disability, particularly for an individual who doesn't speak in words and who participates with 24 hour per day support from others. Catherine has been on this path for more than eleven years. Along the way she has garnered an ever increasing crowd of close friends, admirers and well-wishers. "Cath" has opened the way for less feisty souls by doing what hadn't yet been done and by continuing to succeed at it in fine style in spite of bureaucratic barriers, her own health challenges and plain old human failings.
Nicola Schaefer is the mother of this daughter who could easily be rejected by everyone, including her own family. Nicola's buoyant words describe a story of innovation and perseverance that led to her daughter having a fulfilling life as a young woman interdependent and participating fully in her own community. Nicola's tale of the trials and the victories is fascinating and important. She teaches us what it takes to turn an avalanche around.
The story of the policy and technical triumphs is important. So is the tale of Catherine's life in her own home. The recounting of the other family members' progress is intriguing. But the best part of Yes, She Knows She's Here, is the way Catherine's voice sounds throughout.
I have long admired the mystery of communication that people who don't use words often open up for all of us to experience. Frequently we hear that "the nonverbal" have a disability - one that is to be ameliorated with therapy and technology. Yes, Catherine tried all that! What shines through this glorious book is the manner in which Catherine has opened up the minds, hearts and spirit of person after person. Through her attentive silence, her joyous laughter and gestures, and her deep appreciation of life lived in the moment in partnership with other people - through simply being herself Catherine has brought happiness, healing and opportunity to countless others.
Thank you, Catherine for being the amazing pioneer that you are! Thank you Nicola for being the inspiring leader that you are! And thank you for letting Catherine reveal her wisdom and love through your words.
Judith Snow is a leading advocate for inclusion, a doctoral student (temporarily), and a friend.
Nicola Schaefer, a loving mother with the capacity to reflect and the ability to give meaning to experience, has written another chapter to bring us up to date about her daughter Catherine. While she's an extraordinary person, Nicola also reveals herself to be no different from any other mother: she worries she's unsure she has doubts; she makes mistakes. But she believes in life, in the potentialities of friendship, and in the gifts her daughter has to give.
As is true about all great stories, this one touches your heart with its honesty and its everyday-ness. Nicola tells us about her struggles to support her family, about how she gets tired, and about how she comes to realize that she needs time for herself. But it is delightful to learn how she takes care of it all without compromising her daughter's opportunities to take her own place in the world.
As Nicola says, so many stories about disability are tragedy-to-triumph transformations. They amuse us, but they do not help us understand. "Yes! She Knows She's Here" helps us understand, through mundane yet intriguing and necessary detail, that we can transform the life of someone we love. The details about the friends who support Catherine are very helpful. And there is encouragement in learning that, as some friends find it necessary to leave Catherine's home, new ones arrive to take their places. And each new friend is different. As they come and go in and out of Catherine's home and her life, we begin to see that it is indeed Catherine's home and that there is stability in her life. We learn that change is manageable and even welcome sometimes - new friends can add a little spice.
Nicola is not finished. We can look forward to reading about what comes next. What surprises are in store for Catherine and what surprises does she have for us? Who will her next friends be? Where will they come from? How will life change for Catherine as she grows older? What will happen to Catherine's brothers? Will her community change? Now that we know this family so well, we want to grow old with them. It has been comforting and strengthening to hear the beginning of the story, to experience life as it unfolds; and now we know that we can look forward to the future.
We learn from Nicola and Catherine that when you start down the road of life, you don't always know where you are going. And that's OK - it's mostly about the journey anyway.
Nancy Thaler is the Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Retardation.