I could show her what I can do. How I shine.”
Christina is a warm, creative and playful 28 year old living in Cambridge. “I make friends really easily. People are naturally drawn to me,” Christina notes. Her love for travel, cooking, and words is shared by her family. Travel plans keep people coming and going in the house she shares with her mom, two brothers, stepfather, and service dog Jester. Christina herself is studying to become a travel agent through Conestoga College, following in the footsteps of her mother Cathy.
Independent Facilitation is a key resource for Christina and her family, as she journeys towards greater independence. Though change can be uncomfortable for Christina, she appreciates this process of building a life lived according to her own interests and on her own terms.
At first Christina felt uncertain about Independent Facilitation. Would this be a program, like so many others, where Christina would be told what to do, or where she’d have to follow someone else’s plan? Soon, Bridges to Belonging had matched Christina with her Independent Facilitator. After they met a few times Christina realized that things would be different with Danielle. “She would never object to the plans I had in mind,” says Christina. “She basically went with my style and my ideas. And I appreciated that… She respects my decisions.”
Before being involved with Independent Facilitation Christina had already experienced some big achievements. When Jester, her seizure response service dog, entered her life in 2013, Christina began to be able to sleep through the night without fear, and make it through medical procedures on her own. Jester’s training helped her to be less apprehensive whether at home or out in public. The Big Fella, as Christina describes him, was a new source of support for Christina. She found some ease in everyday life that she hadn’t previously thought possible.
It was during this period of emerging confidence and independence that Christina welcomed Danielle into her life. “There was no checklist,” explains Danielle about their work together. Independent Facilitation happens organically. “It’s a process. It’s a lot of figuring out. A lot of trust building.” Danielle invited Christina to share some of her favourite pastimes with her. Christina loves cooking healthy foods, riding her horse Lionel, colouring, and painting pottery. By doing the things she most enjoyed with Danielle, Christina taught Danielle about herself. “Being with Danielle brought out my creativity even more. I could show her what I can do. How I shine,” Christina shares.
Christina and Danielle’s relationship is flexible and fluid, guided by Christina’s goals. Nothing is fixed in stone. Christina and Danielle often text together in between visits. “We talk about goals all the time,” Danielle explains. “And how to get there. And how to break them down. It’s a constant re-evaluation, like all of our lives.” When they focus on an immediate issue, like getting through a tough exam, Christina is in the lead, with Danielle as support. While Christina does all the work of preparing for the exam herself, Danielle is with her, helping her to break down the problem, and supporting Christina to find new strategies for coping. “Such a calming influence,” Christina says to Danielle. “No you are,” says Danielle. “No you are!” says Christina. The room fills with laughter.
One example of the flexibility in the Independent Facilitation process came as Christina worked on becoming healthier. Gyms were unappealing to Christina, someone who often feels uncomfortable in large groups and public settings. Danielle reached out to her network of independent facilitators to find a gym that might feel more welcoming, and found it in Active Souls. Though the fitness class itself did not meet Christina’s needs and was difficult for Christina to get to independently, the connections made at Active Souls were rich with possibility. With Danielle’s support, Christina created a new fitness plan. Now she meets regularly with Lindsay, one of Active Souls’ personal trainers, in her own home for yoga practice. Christina’s mom Cathy loves to listen from her office as Christina and her trainer breathe, stretch, and laugh together.
As Independent Facilitation has opened up new possibilities for Christina, it has also brought more joy to her relationship with her mom. Cathy has always been an important support to Christina. “But we’re together too much,” Cathy shares. Now Christina gets out a lot more without Cathy. It’s a relief to Cathy to know that her daughter is actively pursuing her interests and working on long-term goals that previously seemed impossible. These days when they have an hour together, it’s much less likely to be spent with Cathy driving Christina to one of her weekly activities, and more likely that they will spend it sharing an activity they both enjoy, like puzzling. Cathy is thrilled to see how the Independent Facilitation process has enriched her daughter’s life. “Christina is showing more independence and confidence every day… and my relationship to Christina, although it was always great, is less strained since I don’t have to be ‘everything’ and play every role in her life.”
As an Independent Facilitator, Danielle is a neutral person with whom Christina can dream and make plans. The trusting relationship that Christina and Danielle have built together becomes very important when it comes to big issues. Housing is a topic that has long been off limits between Christina and her mom. Cathy hoped Christina would move out before she was thirty, but that idea made Christina fear that she was being abandoned. Danielle has helped both Christina and Cathy understand that housing can take many different shapes, and doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “There’s a program we’ve just started called Be At Home, for creative housing ideas,” Danielle explains. “We can match people up to just dip a toe in and try it out.” Gradually, with Danielle’s support, Christina is taking steps to figure out what creative housing could look like for her, on her own terms.
Christina recently wrote out her achievements, the words flowing with pleasure and pride. From completing a challenging college course, to nurturing special relationships as an aunt, her energy sparkles off the pages. Present in each line is the underlying story of Christina’s growing confidence and independence. By paying attention not only to who Christina is but also to her context, Danielle has helped Christina and Cathy to identify new and unexpected connections and pathways forward. This is one of the gifts of Independent Facilitation. It is a slow, ecological process that includes the person and the significant people in the person’s life. For Christina, this process is creating the space she needs to develop her own story of strength and discovery.