Mountain Shadows Support Group

Through Johanna’s Eyes

img-mtnshadowJohanna is a new Mountain Shadows Olive House resident. Olive House is an ICF/DD-N (Intermediate Care Facility/Developmentally Disabled-Nursing) facility. What that means in layman’s terms is that the residents who live in Olive require a very high level of nursing care. Johanna is confined to a wheelchair and is considered “medically fragile” which means she is dependent on life sustaining medications and treatments, and she needs assistance for most all of her daily activities, like showering, eating, and using the bathroom.

Now, most of us have dreams. In fact, many of us have pretty big dreams, like travelling the world, winning the lottery, or maybe even climbing Mt. Everest. Johanna had a dream too. Her dream may seem small to some of us – to those of us who can walk on our own, to those of us who can drive a car, to those of us who can eat a meal on our own, not through a feeding tube. But Johanna’s dream was big and beautiful and very important to her.

You see, Johanna had never seen the ocean before. She’d never been able to walk along a sandy beach and feel the warmth of the sand between her toes. She’d never smelled the salty sea air or felt the cool rush of the waves as she walked along the shore.

But, not long ago, thanks to the support of Mountain Shadows, Johanna was able to live her dream and see the ocean for the very first time in her life.

“Johanna was so excited about going to Camp Able,” say Vickie Perdaris-Torvinen, Mountain Shadows – San Diego. “As we were driving over the Coronado Bridge, Johanna became very emotional. When she saw the beautiful, panoramic view of the ocean from the van, Johanna was completely overwhelmed. She started to cry – and she couldn’t stop crying.

“Then, when we got to the beach, the Camp Able staff used a specially designed wheelchair and took Johanna into the water! She just sat in that water-wheelchair and kicked and kicked and kicked. It seemed like forever! She didn’t want to stop kicking her feet in the water. And she was screaming at the top of her lungs and laughing. Just screaming and laughing. She couldn’t stop. I think it was the happiest moment in her life! And she didn’t want to leave. She said, ‘Can I come back next year?’”

As the writer of the newsletter for Mountain Shadows, I’ve had the honor and privilege to come to know many of the Mountain Shadows residents over the years. I consider them to be some of my life’s greatest teachers. They teach me about what’s important – about what really matters in this life. From Johanna, I learned about seeing the world through new eyes. About seeing, really seeing, the magnificence that surrounds us every day – a magnificence we rarely take time to notice.

And I learned that sometimes the smallest dreams are really the biggest.

I often drive the 101 on my way home from work. Most of the time, I take this route just to avoid traffic jams on the I5. But on this day, as I looked to the west, I saw the ocean with new eyes. I saw it through Johanna’s eyes.

On a whim, I parked my car, took off my high-heeled pumps, and walked barefoot along the beach, feeling the sand beneath my feet, breathing in the salty air. Buoyed, perhaps from too much fresh sea air in my lungs, I tentatively kicked a foot in the water, in a small tribute to Johanna.

The water sprayed back in the wind, showering me with a light sea-mist. I must admit at first I felt pretty silly and I glanced around behind me to see if anyone was watching. But, then as I looked out over the horizon, I breathed in deeply, just drinking it all in. I smiled to myself and kicked again … then again … and AGAIN! It felt so pure, so fun, so … good. I just kept kicking, and kicking, and kicking. Then, breathless, I dropped back onto the sand, laughing.

I sat there on the beach for a long time, seeing the ocean as if for the first time, seeing the ocean through Johanna’s eyes. And it was so beautiful …I cried. I cried because of its astounding beauty. I cried because I’d never taken the time to really see it before. And I cried in gratitude, to Johanna, for helping me to see it now.

Individuals with disabilities often live out their lives in the shadows, hidden on the outskirts of humanity. At Mountain Shadows, we are working to help the disabled live brighter, more fulfilling, and meaningful lives as active, and integral, members of their communities. We believe it is time for the disabled to step out of the shadows and into the light.

Founded in 1984, Mountain Shadows has earned a reputation as one of the most highly respected, non-profit organizations providing comprehensive services to individuals with intellectual disabilities. Our uniqueness is forged upon our ability to provide state-of-the-art services in a caring, family-like environment.

Currently operating 30 sites throughout San Diego and Riverside counties, we have a rich tradition of developing and implementing innovative, solution-based programs to benefit children and adults diagnosed with a wide range of intellectual disabilities, including autism, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.

With compassion and respect as our core principles, we facilitate a broad spectrum of residential and healthcare services, including after school programs for children with autism, early childhood development curriculum, adult training programs, and transportation services for more than 260 individuals with disabilities.

Stories like Johanna’s fill me with gratitude – gratitude for all we are able to do to transform the lives of all our Mountain Shadows residents and clients. And gratitude for Johanna, and all those we serve, for helping us to see through new eyes.

Thank you Johanna for helping me to see the beauty of the ocean through your eyes.

If you would like to help Johanna and all of our residents, please go to:

To see the world through another’s eyes is to see the world anew.

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