From Marshall Street to West Lane: A Story of Resilience
In February 2022, the Marshall Street residence in downtown Albany had a serious fire that required the four men who lived there to be moved immediately. This would be a crisis for anyone, let alone people with disabilities, some who have very special medical, and psychological needs.
“The fire uprooted the men at Marshall Street and, as you would imagine, there was a lot of anxiety around where they were going to go, what it would be like and what would happen to their possessions,” Sue Hanson, the director of residential services, says. “At first, our hope was we could get back into Marshall Street in a few months.”
That wasn’t to be. The damage was too severe and repairs too difficult for a house that the men were planning to move from in the near future. Instead, the Wildwood residential staff responded and the four men were housed at The Residence Inn on Washington Avenue Extension in Albany. This meant new surroundings, a new neighborhood and new people to get to know and understand. It also meant being without many of the things that the men found comfort in and activities they were accustomed to that gave their life structure.
“It was an adjustment for sure. The rooms were nice but much smaller than what the men were used to. It was especially difficult for the staff who had to sleep on a pull-out bed, deal with spotty Wi-Fi service and cramped makeshift office space,” Sue says.
Fortunately, a respite house owned by OPWDD became available. Though this offered a more home-like setting it meant the stress of yet another move, the upheaval of an already upset life and another period of adjustment. The men were helped by the staff to once again adjust.
“The men were put in a position where they had to practice being patient. We did our best to handle the anxiety by keeping them active and regularly getting out of the house and into the community,” Bonita Stewart, the house manager, says. “We also reached out to families for their support and upped the number of visits.”
The men’s patience would be tested again, however. OPWDD requested the house back, and the men had to return to the Residence Inn.
“The staff at the hotel were terrific and they formed relationships with the men. The men enjoyed meeting new people who they could visit with and talk to. I think they were learning to accept the situation and developing some resilience,” Mark Armstrong, Strategic Director of Residential Services, says.
The American Psychological Association describes resilience as the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands. The fourteen-month adjustment to losing their home and then having to move multiple times functioned as an opportunity to become stronger and to grow as people.
The men needed to adjust to a third move after getting adjusted at the OPWDD house. Three places to live in a short period of time would be anxiety provoking for anyone and some of the Marshall Street men are challenged by their anxiety. Still, the staff kept the men centered and grounded. By this time, the men were getting better at dealing with the uncertain and the uncomfortable.
“We did things to counteract the anxiety that the men were feeling. We concentrated on keeping them active and keeping up with their socialization. I’m also big on pep talks when the men needed them. It wasn’t an easy time and it was particularly tough for the staff,” Traci Bryda, house manager during the transition, says.
The search for a new home was ongoing but the current real estate market presented its own challenges.
“We were out bid three times on houses that we selected for the new residence,” Mark Armstrong says.
Later in 2023, their new home at West Lane in Loudonville was identified and purchased and in September the men moved into their new residence. They now had to adjust to yet another new dwelling, a new neighborhood and new people. The difference was, by now, they had taken their experience and were able to apply their newly developed skills for dealing with adversity.
“Some of the men hated fire drills but they told us that they now see how important they are and how bad the fire could’ve been without our alarms,” Bonita says.
In a sense, the fourteen-month trial provided a laboratory for them to work on dealing with difficult situations. With the support of the staff they were able to process fear, stress and anxiety in new ways and under new circumstances.
It is also a tribute to the staff for their hard work under very trying circumstances.
“The staff’s positive attitude and optimism made all the difference,” Sue Hanson says.