Party with a Plan

One of the services NeuroNav offers is working with customers to build a Person-Centered Plan. Person-centered planning is a guided process for learning how an individual wants to live at home, at work, or in their community and developing a plan to make that happen. It focuses on the individual and their unique needs by putting them in charge of defining the direction for their lives. A Person-Centered Plan provides a clear and actionable path for an individual to meet their goals. The process helps individuals feel more valued and included in their community and society.

Hari, NeuroNav communications intern, had the opportunity to talk to Ashley Anderson about her experience with the Person-Centered planning process. As you’ll see, Ashley is an amazing person and we’re so excited to have the privilege of working with her. Read on to learn more about Ashley and Person-Centered Plans.

Ashley Anderson’s face lights up with delight when she discusses food and her Furby toys which she has 15 of in all colors and shapes. With a self-confessed sweet tooth, Ashley bakes cookies often using her own recipes to make “Ashley’s famous cookies.” Ashley’s passion is singing; she is part of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir which is a professional choir group that often goes on tour in the Bay Area and internationally. Singing in front of a crowd, seeing their enjoyment and hearing their applause makes her both happy and proud. Ashley’s favorite activity is swimming and, “Yeah!! I love to Parteee!!” is her exclamation when discussing her recent one-of-a-kind party experience, a Person-Centered Planning Party.

And what is a Person Centered Planning Party? Well, It's a party with a plan!!. NeuroNav has been helping Ashley and her family through the process of entering the Self Determination Program (SDP) over the past few months. This bright and outgoing 33 year-old also happens to be Blind. Over Zoom, Ashley and her mother, Dianne Millner, sat down to discuss the “party” and more.

Ashley and Dianne started off by sharing details about the initial discovery phase of SDP. They are about a month away from finalizing the entire process and credit facilitator, Sabrina Kappe Ramos, for easing the journey. Ashley explained that the first step was to work with the state to develop a budget for Ashley to acquire the services she needed to support her. Dianne added that Sabrina helped them with completing the worksheets and paperwork during this stage. Sabrina also educated them on all of the steps in SDP and discussed factors that needed to be considered when entering the program.

Part of the discovery process is creating a Person-Centered Plan (PCP) and to gather information from a circle of support. When asked how she came up with her circle of support, Ashley explained that it started off with friends and family who had always supported her. Some of them were her friends, some of them her parents' friends. Then, Ashley thought about the activities she was involved in and asked some of the people who are in those activities if they would participate. These included people in her choir, her respite worker, her ILS (Independent Living Skills) worker, and more. Ashley said people readily agreed; they were happy to express their opinions and wanted to help. Ashley said she was happy to be surrounded by such a positive and supportive community.

This led to the “party” with Ashley’s circle of support. In the world of the pandemic lockdown, this was done virtually. Even though they weren’t together in-person, everyone was asked to bring food and drinks to enjoy. This was a party with a difference - an Ashley-centered party.

“Everyone had a good time talking about how they could help me plan my life. I love being the center of attention. I loved hearing that and being a center of their thoughts. I learned a lot of things about myself I didn’t know about and people told me how they felt about me. I was happy a lot of people wanted to help. I didn’t know that before. I also learned that people can be very creative in coming up with new ideas to help me. Helped me think of new things to do for myself that I hadn’t thought about before,” said Ashley.

Ashley said Sabrina made helpful notes from the party which would be used in her Person-Centered Plan. The information from the PCP party, along with input from Ashley, was also distilled into a one page profile developed by Sabrina and Dianne.

One such example of a creative solution that came out of the party was that, since Ashley loves music so much, perhaps she could find a job in a music store. This wasn’t something Ashley or her family had thought possible before but her circle had expressed confidence that she could handle such a job. Ashley was very enthusiastic about this new possibility for her. Some of the people had contacts which Ashley felt may lead her to work at a music store.

When asked for one word that sums up the Person-Centered Planning process, for Ashley it was “Fun” and for Dianne it was “Informative”.

“I think this is a great experience for me. I learned some new things about myself and I’m really looking forward to it. I appreciate hearing from all my circle of friends,” said Ashley. She also learned that she needed to branch out and make friends who are her own age.

Dianne also felt that the experience was good for her saying that it was helpful to hear different perspectives. Then, you can pick and choose what you think is valuable and put it all into a cohesive plan for Ashley so she can decide how she might want to proceed. Dianne also pointed to how being close to Ashley meant that she overlooked obvious things; a friend pointing out that Ashley needed friends her own age had been a revelation to Diane.

In addition, Dianne felt that though there were so many support people around Ashley, there was no real coordination amongst them. In this Ashley-focused process, everyone got to sit down and say their piece and build on each other's information while providing input. Dianne felt that it was the first time all of Ashley’s support people, family, and friends got to hear from each other and it was very helpful.

The process also helped Ashley and Dianne understand each other better. Ashley said that Dianne is a happy and helpful mother. Dianne learned how delighted Ashley was that people were talking about her and making suggestions to her of what they thought she might be interested in and could do. Dianne felt it really made Ashley think a lot about what she wanted and what she could do. Her hopes of Ashley becoming more independent and directing more of her own life with help (instead of the support people always directing it) seem like more realistic goals now.

The next process that NeuroNav is helping the family with now is the budget and approval by the Regional Center. Then, Ashley can work on choosing to spend on activities that can help her lead the life she wants; she has a lot of plans. Ashley is interested in engaging a teacher to learn braille, learning more Blind skills at Lighthouse for the Blind (an organization that provides support for Blind individuals), and attending programs at Toolworks (a non-profit that helps individuals with disabilities). She’d like to get a gym membership, take horseback riding lessons, attend classes at community college and more.

What Ashley and Dianne highlight is that the PCP is not a one-time event. Ashley felt it may need to be updated every couple of years. Dianne too felt that it makes sense to do it again to see what was implemented and what was not, what worked, and what didn’t; it's a continuous process.

For other families looking to get into the SDP and PCP process, Dianne stressed the importance of having a good facilitator, like Sabrina, who can guide the family through the process. “Parents and siblings are often too close to the disabled person so sometimes they overlook things that are obvious that could help the person think of other potential things for themselves. The facilitator again helps the circle of friends become even more creative with their suggestions. And she organizes things so that we have a written plan and we can refer back to it to see what progress we’ve made and what things we still need to work on. So we will never forget, we will always have a plan there to remind us of what we’re trying to accomplish and to measure how well we’re doing and how we need to improve.“

Ashley added that she liked Sabrina because she felt that Sabrina really listened to her input. This is an often overlooked aspect in the arena of disability services especially given that the mantra of disability rights is “Nothing about us, without us.”

Ashley can’t wait for the current pandemic lockdown to be done so that she can get back to her choir practice and other activities. There have been some upsides to the pandemic lockdown for Ashley, though, like being able to spend more time with her family. She’s also used this time to learn all kinds of new things in her online classes like bird identification and bird calling. Ashley hopes to come out of the pandemic with a smile and hopes that that people will come out kinder as well.

To watch a documentary about the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the choir Ashley sings in, click here:

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