Guest writer and Life Unlimited Fund Development Committee member Susie Whitfield recently joined a group for a tour of Life Unlimited’s historic Immacolata Manor in Liberty, Mo. Her account of that day details how a history of compassion shapes our mission today:
Although the clouds persisted in sending down a steady drizzle, our first sight of the grounds and stately white-pillared home brightened the morning. Inspired by Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Liberty Manor estate, once known as Broadacres, was built by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bruening to raise the Clydesdales he imported from Scotland.
In 1981, a number of families purchased the estate for their daughters with developmental disabilities and renamed it Immacolata Manor. The Benedictine Sisters of Kansas City cared for the daughters with until 1997.
We began our tour by visiting one of the five group homes on the site. Meticulously cared for, the attractive one-story house welcomed guests with Halloween pumpkins and balloon spiders decorating the front porch.
We all admired the inviting living room with its comfortable chairs and sofas, and the spotless kitchen with its large eating space. Each resident had her own bedroom that reflected her personality—my favorite was a pink room with family pictures and a collection of dolls and stuffed animals. The home’s sparkling clean bathrooms and a laundry room also impressed us. The residents were at another location during our visit, and yet we knew immediately that this was their home, not an impersonal facility.
We then walked over to the Broadacres Recreational Center. Most of the residents were eating their lunch. A lively hum of conversation filled the center, and several residents came over to say hello.
The center’s bright and cheerful main room held round tables and chairs, and the open shelving along the walls was filled with neatly organized baskets of supplies for hands-on activities. With the assistance of direct support professionals (DSPs), residents were engaging in a variety of activities. We learned they had fairly busy schedules at the center, which included games, exercises, and even musical performances. Not all of the residents were there when we visited, since many also are employed in a variety of settings, and they also regularly visit libraries, museums, and shopping centers around Kansas City.
As we finished lunch, we watched a video presentation that described the history of the complex and the challenges of meeting the needs of the residents as well as maintaining the high quality of care they are given by DSPs.
Due to insufficient funding, keeping staff is extremely difficult. Even with recent hourly wage increases, DSPs often struggle to support their families and typically resort to working as much overtime as possible. Some must even rely on food stamps and other types of government assistance. Because they see their jobs as a calling, they are willing to make these serious sacrifices.
Joining us at lunch were Missouri State Senator Lauren Arthur and Representative Jon Carpenter. They fully understand the situation and described their efforts to increase state funding.
A presentation by Life Unlimited CEO Julie Edlund described the history and the mission of the Manor and ended with poignant stories told by Susie Schneider and Jay Ruf, both of whom have siblings who are now living at the Manor. They described how heart-wrenching that decision had been for their families. However, they said the agony is made more bearable because of the excellent care their siblings receive, which is nearly impossible for most families to provide.
As we drove away, we talked about how very impressed we all were with the Manor. The terrible institutional warehousing of adults with disabilities belongs to the past. Nevertheless, providing a secure and humane environment for our most vulnerable citizens continues to challenge all of us.
We appreciate Susie sharing her story and shedding light on some of the current issues Life Unlimited and its individuals and families served are facing.
If you want to support recreational programs, help increase wages for DSPs, and close the gap in state-provided funding, please donate now.