An interview with Cleo, by Kim Dodd
Isn’t it easy to speak for our clients instead of with our clients? Doctors ask us to do it, bank tellers look at us instead of the client. It is so easy to believe our voice should be speaking. I love when people like Cleo come along and remind me that people can actually speak much better for themselves!
Cleo and I went to the DDS hearing in Oakland because Cleo wanted to speak. I wanted to go present my ideas and say the CSLN mantra—“Keep the cuts as far away from the clients as possible.” Cleo had something more powerful and beautiful to say. She had her own voice. She had her own story.
We waited and waited for our turn to come before the panel. The hours marched on: six pm turned into seven and seven into seven-thirty. The room kept draining of its contents until there were only a handful of starving people left in the vast room. Cleo is diabetic, so I was concerned about her blood sugar levels. I kept looking at Cleo, “do you want to leave?”, but she was resolute to speak her mind. Our name was never called. Eventually, Terri Dellgadeo asked if anyone else would like to speak. At 7:45pm, she was one of the very last people to get in front of the panel. She had written her speech down, so she got up and shared the following:
“Please do not cut SLS for the 21 Regional Centers because I need my staff and hours. I came from an abusive family background. Some of the clients did not choose their family. If you cut staff and hours, how can we survive? We do not have anywhere to go. So it’s very important that you not cut SLS at all. I consider COMPASS part of my family.
“Please do not cut day programs at all. I love my job at Mission Hope in Dublin as a receptionist. I work with a bunch of beautiful people that we serve. I think something should be done about that guy—I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is a crook.”
Note: That last line was extemporaneous... she thought of that when she got up there!
So in the spirit of what Cleo continues to teach me, I thought she could speak for herself. I sat down with Cleo to listen and give her the chance to speak. This is what she had to say:
How long have you been in SLS? 5 years in Alameda County.
What is your favorite thing about SLS? Working with nice people. It is nice to have extra support. It is nice to have someone to do fun things.
What are you proud of? Get to do speaking engagements. Talk about not cutting staff wages or hours that clients have. I spoke in front of DDS on February 27th, 2009, my speech.
What are you looking forward to in the future? I am looking forward to my birthday coming up. I will be forty-nine. I am going to go out to eat. My class reunion is this year I get to see all my friends and maybe make new friends. I am going to take my address book.
How do you become successful in SLS? You have to keep your apartment up. You need to keep it clean. You need to keep up with Doctors appointments. You need to take medication too. You don’t want to go back to a care home.
What is a goal that you have accomplished? I did not know how to do my own finger prick. I knew I would need to learn because I am Type II Diabetic. I now do it one a day by myself. I don’t want to end up back in a care home. I want to stay in Supported Living and on my own.
What makes you happy? I am glad that SLS is here. My apartment is big and humongous. I am happy.