Making a Difference, One Person at a Time
~ The following was published in the winter 2010 issue of All About Her, a regional newspaper insert.
When Kamala Bauers was 10 years old, her 7-month-old brother James suffered complications from Spinal Meningitis that left him severely disabled. Today, Bauers and her husband Jack Wall are celebrating their 15th year as directors of Wall Residences, a business that provides foster home placements for people like James who have significant support needs. "I have the best job in the world," Bauers says, "one that makes a difference in people's lives."
Bauers met Wall in 1994 when she was employed at a residential treatment center for adolescents and finishing up her degree in social work at Radford University. He was the Intellectual Disabilities Director of Valley Community Services Board in Staunton.
"He had this idea of bringing people out of institutions and into home settings. I was drawn to it because of my brother. I wanted to see people with disabilities have real lives in spite of their challenges," says Bauers, who explained that her brother James was institutionalized for many years but now lives in a group home.
By 1995 Bauers and Wall were married and had made their first foster care placement: in their own Floyd County home. Their business quickly grew. "People saw what we were doing and started asking questions about how they could open their homes to support people with disabilities too."
Although it's not always possible or appropriate for families to provide fulltime support to adult family members with disabilities, the family system is the most functional and natural way to support them, which is why Wall Residences promotes a family model in their services. Built from the ground up, Walls innovative services are also cost effective.
"The cost of institutional care is unsustainable and a burden on taxpayers," Bauers points out. "It's an expensive process and a medical model. Most people with disabilities don't require or benefit from that level of support."
With an individualized approach and a person-centered philosophy, Wall Residences supports adults with disabilities to pursue their personal interests, build meaningful relationships, and find paid or volunteer work. "Our foster care residents are known in their communities by name, rather than by a label," Bauers says, adding that they become part of the family they live with.
Folding towels at recreation center, washing lunch trays at an elementary school, organizing and distributing food at a food bank, or sweeping floors at a rescue squad station are some of the jobs that Wall residents fill. One resident is currently taking swimming lessons.
Robert, who is non-verbal and has cerebral palsy, spent 38 years in an institutional training center before becoming part of a family in Floyd. Drawing on local services, the family connected Robert with the Radford University Speech and Language clinic where he received instruction on how to use a head pointer for communicating. Later, while on vacation with his foster family, it was discovered that Robert loves parasailing. "He'd do it all the time if had the opportunity. It's an expensive hobby," Bauers joked.
Wall Residences' foster care providers also benefit from the residential model. "It's challenging but rewarding work. Because we're a small business with low administration costs, we can reimburse our foster care providers at a high rate," Bauers says. Providers are trained and certified, as are their hourly back-up workers. They're supported by regular visits from Wall Program Managers, an important part of the team, and attend Wall's yearly conferences where nationally known speakers inspire and talk about trends in the service provider profession. Some providers have been with the agency since its inception. "Our experienced providers mentor new providers," Bauers notes.
After five years Bauers and Wall's home-based business had grown to the point where it was no longer feasible for them to provide direct support to a resident in their home. Currently, the agency supports 310 individuals in 175 homes throughout Southwest and Northern Virginia. In 2008 the couple moved their business out of their home and into a state-of-the-art energy efficient green office building that houses nine offices for staff, a conference room, kitchen, reception area, and 82 solar panels on the roof.
Apart from the work Bauers does on behalf of people with disabilities, she is a founding member of the Partnership of Floyd, a citizen group that works with the town pursuing grants for town projects. The group is currently working on the development of a downtown park. "I am a firm believer in giving back to the community and I'm committed to making things better where we live, says Bauers, who remembers joining a "Save the Whales" club at the age of 14.
Although she misses doing direct foster care out of her home, Bauers is encouraged by the excellent services Wall provides, and by the success stories she sees everyday as a result of that. "I really believe that we have an obligation to make a difference in the lives of others," she says. Bauers is doing just that, one person at a time.
~ Colleen Redman
Note: For more information go to wallresidences.com or call 540-745-4216. A story on Wall's LEED certified building is HERE. Photo is of Kamala with Donovon, a Wall foster resident. Click and scroll HERE for more Floyd Press stories.