Independent living, thanks to family and supports.
Meet the Westcott Family
Elise Westcott has faced adversity. The 31-year-old was born with a facial deformity and, at the age of 12, lost her father. She has had intellectual disability and mental health diagnoses, and battled (and conquered) Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Yet, despite it all, she has powered on, choosing to live her life on her own terms.
“She couldn’t catch a break,” mom Maureen says. “Still, Elise is very independent, which is enabled by supports she accesses through her waiver.”
With waiver-assisted support, Elise has lived in different group homes, with varying degrees of oversight, as well as in an apartment by herself. Now, recovering from cancer treatments, she chose to move back in with her mom and just got a dog as a companion. “She’s made decisions about living arrangements all on her own, based on her needs at the time,” Maureen says. “Her first experience living on her own was a big one. We both struggled a bit, balancing independence with support. But, in time, we both got used to it.”
Elise is currently looking for meaningful work. “She has a very social personality,” Maureen adds. “Elise volunteers at an adult day program now and would love to work as a staff person with seniors. She also does statewide advocacy, on behalf of adults with disabilities. In fact, she’s presenting at a conference in July about living in the community and takes the train to Harrisburg whenever she needs to.”
“I cannot imagine life without services,” says Maureen, who has relied on human services programs to keep working to support her family. “As a single parent, there was no other point person. I work, so I couldn’t always be everywhere she needed.
“Services have also provided opportunities for Elise throughout all the stages of her life,” Maureen adds of programs funded by Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services. “The day program, employment supports, independent living, medical needs. Because of her waiver, she can live in a setting that suits her and her abilities.”
Maureen, who serves as executive director, agency oversight and systems advocate for The Arc of Lancaster County, suggests that anyone considering defunding or underfunding these services should put themselves in the shoes of special needs families. “Then you see how critical these services are to daily life. They’re not fancy add-ons. These are basic, no-frills means to survival. Without services, many parents could not work.” And people like Elise would not have an everyday life.