Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Mosaic in South Central Iowa

Libbi Smith, a disabled person, says the road that led to Mosaic in Chariton was a journey she, gratefully, was able to chose for herself. It turned out to be the best decision of her life. At the time, she was in a psychiatric ward and it was time for her release. “Hello! I have no place to go,” she thought to herself. After checking out three potential agencies in Waterloo, she said she chose Mosaic for three aspects: giving her a voice, freedom, and health.

“Medically, I was really messed up at the time,” she remembered. “In March, that would have been three years ago. My family did try to visit me, but at that time I wasn't really accepting them and wanted to go my own way.”

Libbi now lives in a group home with two other disabled ladies. She was delighted when she was given the option of choosing what color of paint she wanted for her room and what decoration she wanted as well as how it was set up. She has aides that come in three days a week. “I suffered from deep depression that first year,” she said as she recalled events from her past that made her feel powerless. She was born premature, weighing only three pounds, so has lived with physical disabilities her whole life. “My family had no clue,” she said. “My mother refused any kind of testing at all – something I cannot understand because there would have been so many programs that could have helped me when I was born, but, you know, that's in my past. “My mother made some wrong choices and for a time I let that affect me. This aspect of Mosaic, giving me a voice, is personally very important. They understand about my world and how I was shut out. Of being told, “Be quiet. We don't want to listen.”

Libbi recalled her school years. “When I was in school I had this very big, bulky bike. Kids made fun of me for it. Because of that, I went straight to academics. I graduated High School in 2000. When I was at my grandparents in Waverly, I was able to go the Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo for awhile. I did want to become a doctor because I have a big heart. I wanted to help people like me, but that wasn't in God's plan for me.”

She went on to say that God's plan was for her to be at Mosaic where she could help others realize that they can have a full life without a great big residence or other things attached. “I know now that you don't need those things.” That thought took her back to a previous life lesson. It was winter and her mother got a loan from a friend so she could get a van to accommodate Libbi. They were in the van when the vehicle hit a patch of ice and slid off the road with only one tire keeping them from a complete turn-over. The seat belt was the only thing keeping Libbi in the car. The belt was so far embedded in her stomach for so long that it was very hurtful when the medics took it off to see if her stomach area was okay. “My relatives who were there at the time went on about the van and the surrounding problems of it not being ours. I said to please be quiet; that at least we were alive. I told them you can always replace a vehicle, but you can't replace people.”

Leaving the past behind, Libbi concentrated on what is wonderful about her world today. Since coming to Mosaic, she has learned how to get up every day and take medications on time. She is eating much healthier food. “Because of Mosaic, I now know what it is to have a true family. If a person here is having a problem, they just need to talk to somebody who is not going to just write everything down and say, okay, and that's it. Mosaic has taught me that we can talk and just be a friend. “If we are having a bad day, we can always talk to staff. If I want to call Mom, which I do because my step dad just had surgery, I can check on them. Mosaic lets me go home every other month and for the holidays. That's nice. But it is always better to have your own home to came back to.”

Libbi recalls times when she was grateful for Mosaic's concern for her health. She loves being outdoors in the sun. She proudly shows how her arm is still brown from last summer. Because she loves being out, she sometimes is unaware of the heat index and when it is time to come back inside. She can always rely on staff to remember where she is and how long she has been out and monitor her time and the sun's strength. “I always appreciate the safety drills, too,” she said. “There was one night when we were all tucked in bed, but could smell something burning. We didn't know what or where it was so we called the house manager. She said to get everybody out of the house. It turned out that the motors in my power chair were bad. So they always watch out for everyone's safety in the house and not just my own. The medical care here is also so much better than where I have been in the past, showing, again, how much they really do care.”

Continuing her story, Libbi said, “My mother made some wrong choices for a long time. I let her choices affect me, but now that I am here, I look at what is now and how much has changed. I am who I am. I have also found a church that I go to on Thursday night and twice on Sundays. They don't treat me like I am in a chair. They treat me like one of their own. I like feeling that way. That is also Mosaic's way. They accept us for who we really are.”

Talking to Libbi is easy. Her mobility chiefly depends upon her power chair, but otherwise she speaks eloquently and demonstrates her tendencies toward the academic. When she was in the psychiatric ward, she was diagnosed with a rare type of disability that has to do with manipulation that, according to records, means she has a very mild type of retardation. It is so mild that it is generally not noticeable.

Libbi loves to read. She writes poetry. She keeps a food journal so she can lost weight in the coming new year and keep track of her ongoing dietary needs. She writes letters. Her step dad likes to receive cards from his “Little Meister” so she is now sending him post surgery get well cards. She works in the sheltered workshop making mouse traps. She describes proudly and with understandable detail how she attaches the wires of her part to the intricate assembly. She works two days a week in the morning before she goes to the day-hab program on the Mosaic premises. The students call the dab-hab program “Journey.” She explains that Journey is a place for “individuals like me” to learn. There is a computer and TV and Wii and all kinds of other ways to keep brains stimulated. “I am pretty content,” she said. “I know what I have to do when I get up in the morning and know when I should go to bed. I know there is more in the world than just me and that there are more ways than one to do things. Like checks and cash. Before Mosaic, I had no idea what were debit cards. I had no idea what they were, how they worked, why they worked, how money got on them. I did not understand any of it, but I have learned.” Libbi now has her own laptop at home. She has her own Facebook account to keep in touch with family and can follow friends at Mosaic that are on Facebook, too. She does Word Find puzzles and likes Bible word games. “They keep my mind from going to mush,” she said, laughing. “I am a creative thinker! They are hard, but I enjoy them because they challenge my mind and keep it up to speed!”

Libbi says there was a time when she was a scrooge. She admitted that she was a real penny pincher, but proudly announced that she no longer is. If she could give to everybody, she would. She is happy to just help out anybody in any way she can. She is spending some of her very limited social security on gifts for her mother and step dad to present when she goes home for Christmas. She said visits can be hard for them. “It is not very easy to pick me up, especially because my legs are dead weight,” she explained. “I have little surprises for both my parents for Christmas. I am bringing some sparkling grape juice and summer sausage and my dad's favorite – chocolate covered cherries.”

Libbi said her parents feel very grateful to Mosaic because they can see that she is truly happy, something she never used to be. For the last three years, Mosaic has been a dream Christmas present for Libbi. But because she is like everyone else, she likes presents, too, and has a New Year's resolution. The latter is to lose weight so healthy snacks would be welcome. The former is to begin a Bible collection. “It sounds silly,” she said, “but I want to have a collection of Bibles if they don't cost too much. The easier it has become for me to understand, the more excited I get reading them and want to read more and more and more. As a matter of fact, I even like reading Children's Bibles. So if someone would want to bless me with the gift of new or used Bibles, I will consider that such a great blessing for me.”

Of course, social acceptance is still high on the list of dreams. When people look at her, she wants them to see beyond the wheelchair. “It is a piece of equipment I use to get around,” she said. “But don't treat me like I am a piece of equipment because I am a person and I have feelings. Don't talk down to me because that hurts me and every other person with a disability. It doesn't feel good and it isn't right. “I understand that people might feel uncomfortable with my bathroom issues and other things I have to deal with, but I would rather they ask questions and be curious about it rather than say something that is hurtful and be stuck in my head all day.”

Ending on a positive note, which is the mood Libbi has chosen to adopt with her new circumstances and for the holiday season, she says, “I love Mosaic so much. It has opened so many doors for me that I never knew existed before. It is so good to call this place home.