Grady was born in 1953 in rural Georgia. At the age of 5, he was sent to live in an institution. He was nonverbal and experienced self-injurious behaviors. At that time, Grady’s diagnosis was unclear, but he spent the next 55 years largely confined to a single room. He did not communicate and was unable to care for himself. Grady grew up during a time of significant change in how our communities support, interact, and encourage children and adults with disabilities.
Five years ago, due to drastic changes in state policy and the closing of many large institutions, Grady arrived at one of Hope Haven’s small group homes. After decades in an institution, Grady arrived agitated, didn’t have the ability to communicate, and still expressed self-injurious behavior. But Hope Haven believed in Grady. They believed in his right to a life of freedom, meaning, and opportunity. Through empowerment and practice, Grady transformed. He now has the power of choice because he learned sign language and uses a picture board to explain what he wants to do, what he’d like to eat, and when he’d like to go outside and sit in the sun.
At home, you’ll often find Grady caring for one of his many stuffed animals, listening to Johnny Cash, helping with laundry or hanging around the kitchen. The staff that have watched Grady transform believe he loves to be in the kitchen because the delicious smells and activities of preparing a home-cooked meal, is an experience he never had at a large institution. If you look closely, it’s easy to see yourself in Grady. He is proof that humans – all humans – thrive with thoughtful care, respect, and encouragement.