Thirty-four years ago, Louis P. gave me a green pepper. And that’s why I am here today. It was my first day working at a state institution on the East Coast. On my way in the door, a small man in a baseball hat and a dark gray overcoat about five sizes too big for him called out to me. He was standing beside a tiny garden plot that had been planted beside the entrance. Two wildly overgrown tomato plants sprawled through an uneven row of pepper plants. A lone eggplant gleamed darkly from the tangle of vines and stalks. Marigolds had been planted in a tight circle around the vegetables. I knew this was an old gardener’s trick. The pungent smell of marigolds keeps bugs from finding the tender leaves of young vegetables.
“Can I help you?”
“Here. Take it.” He handed me a stunted green pepper.
“No really, I can’t.”
“Take it. It’s okay.”
I kept that pepper. I dried it in the sun and kept it on all my desks for fifteen years. Louis and I only knew each other for four of those years. We were part of the team closing down that institution. I read a poem at his funeral. But in those four years Louis taught me my purpose in life. To be a care giver. To help others find freedom, to realize their potential, to try things they might never have tried.
Knowing Louis gave me courage to follow my own path in life. I’ve been a case manager, a free-lance writer, and an area administrator in charge of nine group homes and a work activity center. Until recently I was a partner in a fiduciary firm that specialized in helping vulnerable adults who were victims of financial abuse. When the Board of Directors offered me the position of Executive Director for Imagine Possibilities just before Christmas last year, I did a happy dance that would have made Snoopy proud. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to lead IP into its next era.
Imagine Possibilities was founded 56 years ago to be a place where people with special needs could be safe, comfortable, and have a measure of happiness. Now we are looking to a future where all our participants, staff and families can share their special gifts. We are a unique community and we would like you to join us in our next phase. My predecessor Cathy Schaefer has left an enduring legacy through her care for the participants and staff at IP. Estela Rosas is both a talented administrator and a gifted care giver. Lead staff Sandra Mandujano and Shiva Shahrashoob have over 25 years of experience between them. There is a constant feeling of caring and connection that flows through the days. Please come visit and see for yourself.
W. Kevin Burke