“We could not possibly have stayed in this community without DSC,” Elaine Palencia, mother of Andrew, shared recently.
Elaine and her family first learned about DSC in 1979 from Dr. James Corbett, a pediatrician at Carle. She had been worried about her son's development, so Dr. Corbett put them in touch with DSC. DSC then provided a child development specialist to come to their home every week and work with Andrew. “Her name was Evie Albert. She was a wonderfully kind person,” said Elaine. When he was old enough, Andrew was enrolled in the children’s program DSC had in Savoy at the time. When Andrew aged out of the children’s program, he attended public school. During Andrew’s teenage years, a transition case manager, Lynn Canfield, helped Andrew prepare for life after high school at DSC, at the age of 21. This effort and interaction had a lasting impact on the family, and Lynn remains a friend. Andrew enjoyed DSC day programs after high school and lived at home until he was 28.
Heather Levingston, DSC’s Director of Case Management & Family Support Services, believed that Andrew could succeed in a group home. Elaine said, “The process she undertook to familiarize Andrew with the idea was masterful.” When he moved in, Andrew immediately adjusted and came home every weekend. He had the best of both worlds!
So many staff members helped Andrew explore the community around him. But Steven Cisna, DSC’s Individual Family Support Manager, became like family to Andrew. “Andrew's life was enriched in so many ways our family didn't know about, until Steven would send a photo of Andrew. In several, you could see the Chicago skyline in the background or a zoo or a state police museum in Indiana! Steven truly has a gift for working with people with disabilities,” said Elaine.
“Early last year, we realized after four hospitalizations, Andrew needed to be on hospice. At the hospital, Steven and a former DSC staff member, Marie Baker, took the lead in staying with him, so that his dad and I could go home and get some rest. Once Andrew was at home and on hospice, Steven spread the word to current and former DSC employees, who came to visit in droves! One former staff member drove down from Chicago, another from Kankakee. Until the last day or so, Andrew greatly enjoyed the company and attention. Steven also shared dozens of photos that had been taken of Andrew at DSC over the years. We cherish those now. Andrew knew, with the last of his consciousness at the age of 44, how many of his DSC friends loved and cared about him,” shared Elaine.
DSC continues to plan activities for Andrew’s friends in his memory. He is missed but definitely not forgotten. DSC is grateful for having had the opportunity to support Andrew and his family. Thank you, Elaine, for sharing your story with us and for all you do for DSC!