by Diane Holmes on Monday, March 9, 2020
In 1990 I became the MS Counselor for the Area 7 MS Service League, an affiliated agency of Exceptional Persons, Inc. (EPI). Since then the agency has gone through a series of evolutions eventually merging with EPI. When I left EPI as an employee to go into private practice, I continued as Counselor and Director of what became the Multiple Sclerosis Services program. Now, 29 years later the time has come for me to retire.
As I look back over the last 29 years I am humbled by our accomplishments. I say “our” because, while I have been the counselor-director, those accomplishments were only possible because of the behind-the-scenes work of many people. I had supervision by Al Nativg, LISW who helped me develop my Social Work skills. Gary Mattson, LISW, the Executive Director of EPI when I was hired, introduced me to budgeting and administration, followed a year later by Chris Sparks, LISW who has provided administrative supervision for the last 28 years. And, there were members of the Board of Directors who volunteered their time and expertise to assure people affected by Multiple Sclerosis had services that fit their needs. Working with these dedicated and caring people has been an honor and privilege.
And then, there were hundreds of people whose lives were profoundly changed by Multiple Sclerosis. They trusted the Multiple Sclerosis Services program to provide the services they needed, often during their most difficult struggles. Back in 1990 there were no disease-modifying drugs. Treatment was limited to medications to treat symptoms and steroids to speed recovery from exacerbations. There was no MRI so people struggled with symptoms for a number of years before they had a diagnosis. People affected by MS were my most effective teachers. They helped me learn what living with MS was really like.
We, the MS Services program have a number of accomplishments to look back on during the last 29 years.
- People with MS had emotional support to help them cope with life affected by MS from diagnosis throughout the disease process, in some cases for the remainder of their lives.
- People developed an understanding of ways to modify their lifestyles to accommodate their symptoms and live fulfilling lives despite MS.
- Caregivers - family members and professionals - had the information they needed in order to provide appropriate care.
- Communities are more accessible because of my work on the ADA Compliance Commission in Waterloo. I shared what I learned with people in other communities who advocated for themselves, improving accessibility in their community.
- People have a stable income and healthcare coverage because of assistance with applications for Social Security. At times that included working with their attorneys and testifying at SSDI hearings.
- People have accessible homes and vehicles, in-home healthcare, and job training because of collaboration with other agencies.
- Community members have a better understanding of MS because of the many educational presentations to groups and organizations.
And, there is the human side of my work. Funny experiences like being pinned between a person in a wheelchair and the wall, trying to help them get into an inaccessible restroom. I’ve attended joyful events and grieved with families at funerals. I’ve been at people’s sides as they have overcome hardships with dignity and courage. I am deeply honored by our work together and the relationships that grew out of it. I owe you all my deepest gratitude.
Thank you and farewell.