Challenged: Steve Grieger
Challenged is often described when referring to someone that is disabled or handicapped. These people can be mental or physically disabled or both. Sometimes people set goals for themselves and challenge their own ability to complete them within a specific time period. Within this memoir the word challenge or challenged takes on many different meanings as the author enters a world that is not only new to him but will provide many hurdles, obstacles, tests and challenges to see if Steve Grieger belongs as a house parent working with clients in Shepherd’s Hill.
Sometimes fate changes our lives and points us in different directions that we would ordinarily veer away from. One young 22 year old man filled with hopes and dreams of becoming a writer/author or doing something meaningful with his life decides to take on a short term job what happens will open your heart to the world of men, women and children that face challenges dealing with everyday skills and life that we often take fore granted. Steve Grieger read a flyer for a job in Shepherd’s Hill a home for developmentally disabled adults often referred to as “mentally retarded.” From the start as you meet Steve, learn more about his family life you begin to understand why working with these adults and living in home filled with fear, punishments and verbal abuse from a father whose life was anything but idealistic, was more than just rewarding.
Choosing to work at Shepherd’s Hill for the wrong reason, which was to get closer to another worker named Michelle, proved challenging in one respect and rewarding in so many others. Interviewing with Dawn and getting the position he would overcome the first hurdle before going for some intense training. Joining the Independent Training Facility as a house parent and dealing with clients or residents would prove more than just challenging as these adults were developmentally disabled, had unique and individual personalities, needs and wants and would require that Steve learn how to handle not only their physical problems but their emotional ones too. Meet Holly, Owen, Sammy the Face, Jackie, Billy and Hughie as they meet Steve, put up barriers and make him wonder just what he got himself into. Taking the group out he would learn what happens when one client has a seizure, the reaction of the public and how Billy Mattila the most difficult of all would make things worse with his threats, flair ups and disregard for authority. Jackie had an epilepsy seizure and Steve thinking it under control would learn what happens on a simple trip to the grocery store. When you read page 51 you will hear Jackie’s voice, realize his reaction and understand just how difficult Steve’s job really is. From calling 911 to taking him to the hospital and dealing with the staff he felt that he aged just after one week. Owen would provide other challenges as he disappeared, ran out of the home, fought with Jackie and it took every ounce of courage and energy for Steve to temper the situation and find a way to bond with him.
Mistakes, mess-ups, errors, a pizza party that made his clients happy and then a row or string of mistakes. Darlene enjoyed Sammy and many others while Holly loved Hughie. Throughout the beginning of this memoir Steve still reminds us that he is interested in Michelle yet she seems distant and cold when it comes to the clients in this home, not very sympathetic to their needs and wants. A trip to Disney meeting Mickey Mouse, Owen running away and having to bring him back, dealing with Jackie’s seizure, Darlene’s flirtations, Holly and Hughie’s romance and Billy’s uncontrollable behavior all provided many challenges to Steve, obstacles but through them all he never gives up, never complains about wanting to help and protect his client yet wondering whether he will ever attend or complete college as planned. Growing up with a father who was abusive to his entire family, always making him and his mother feel worthless, unfit and not showing any type of love or compassion, Steve is determined to give each and every one of his client’s a feeling of self-worth. Taking trips to stores, teaching them life skills and understanding or trying to understand that things are not always going to go well and even having to make a hard decision about releasing one of his clients, this memoir is told straight from the heart of the author each and every step of the way. You endure his anger, frustrations, and fears and love his sense of humor as he takes us inside Shepherd’s Hill and his love/hate romance with his clients. But, throughout the memoir even when things are messed up, a co-worker spikes the brownies, he gets pulled over for speeding and his bailed out in really hilarious way, you root for this man to succeed and make all of those that doubted him wrong. Without the guidance and warmth of his own family he spends Christmas and holidays with those residents that remain in the home. The trip to Las Vegas was priceless, the will to want to belong and have a family of his own paramount as Steve becomes more involved in the lives of each of these explosive individuals who just want to live someday on their own. Hoping to eventually be able to care for themselves they learn the simple skills leading to attaining their true goal: Independence!
Steve began to question his decision and choice to remain in his job. Trips to the grocery store were missing something as he heard Michelle say that he got in the way. Making a difference in the lives of his clients meant the world to Steve. But, one incident would remain in this reviewer’s mind as Steve decided to take his clients for breakfast trying to help them deal with their purchasing skills. But, not everyone is tolerant and not everyone is understanding as you listen to the voice of the waitress and realize that some things never change.
Steve would learn what others in another part of Shepherd Hills endured as he was assigned to work in The Hills and treated as if he were on Gillian’s Island stranded and alone. Loving what he did and still does, required using his brain to assist and help his clients where working in the Hills required different types of care of clients in need of changing, transferring and caring more for their everyday physical needs. But, things would change as Steve was offered a different type of position giving him more freedom, an apartment of his own and more responsibility. Six of his clients would be moving into what came to be called The Shepherd Hills Community Living Program where they would be more in charge of their lives and he would be there to help guide them along. But, before all of this came to pass a tragedy occurred and one member of his client group had a fatal accident affecting the others but making an impact on Steve that would never go away.
With Cole having a break down and this unit having to come to pass discussions ensued for who would take his place, which 6 would be in this facility and the end result was remarkable. But, in the back of his mind he realized that his father would never change and when telling him he was moving out the scene he describes you just won’t believe as once again his father berates him, tries to make him feel useless but this time he does not give into his words and stand tall on his own. As the 6 clients move into their own apartments things started to come into place. Things would not be as simple or easy as they seem as each of the 6 had their own special and unique behaviors and dealing with Darlene’s, as you will learn in Chapter 10 took some quick thinking and diplomacy on Steve’s part. Owen’s accident, Hughie’s near death experience the change in who ran the facility and Steve’s promotion to Qualified Mental Retardation Professional Administrator are just some of what the author shares as the memoir does not come to a close but his life takes on a different direction. Find out what happens when things change and the word client is eliminated and the word Consumer is used in its place. Understand the changes made at Shepherd’s Hill and which parts were closed, what the new facility would be and where the consumers wound up. Learn the meaning of the words “Quality of Life” and normalization. Find out what happens when he stands up to his father and how! Find out where all of his consumers are now. But, the one compelling chapter dealt with Jim when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as my mom was in 2002. Taking care of him, making sure that he received and still does the proper care as his mind and body decline brought back the same memoires when caring for my mom at home with experienced and loving help. Read the epilogue if you want to know where all of his consumers are now and understand that Steve has taken on many more responsibilities and became part of a group called People First and he does this job in his own words: “I do it because.” I think he does it because he wants to do it, feels passionate about it and cares. Steve: the only person that has to be proud of you is YOU! And you should be! Taking care of his mom and teaching her the meaning of freedom and understanding it yourself is special. Your consumers or clients say that they have rights well so do I have the right to award your FIVE GOLDEN STARS for writing this informative, compassionate and outstanding memoir. Told in the voice of the author with humor, anger, emotion, love and caring this is one memoir that all caregivers, those working in homes and those thinking about placing a loved one in this type of facility should read. The term Intellectual Disability replaced the term Mental Retardation and Steve’s life is perfect and he does not as he states at the end Miss his Dad’s world since creating a wonderful one of his own.
Let’s dedicate it to all of your consumers and a special dedication to Jackie.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer