Patrick Zacher may not say much, but what he does communicate to his parents is heard loud and clear.
“When he hears our voices, he’s coming right to us,” says his father, Joe Zacher. “It’s the love and affection he returns to us, he’s generally a very happy person.”
Patrick, 45, has been supported by Black Hills Works for almost 25 years, says his mother Angie Zacher. The couple connected with the disability services organization in western South Dakota when Patrick, who is non-verbal, turned 21 and could no longer enroll in the special education program through the local school system.
Patrick continued to live with his parents, while participating in the Black Hills Works day services. It has made all the difference in their lives, Angie says. “He is very happy there,” Angie says. “He just walks around and smiles. The support and community he receives allows him to be a contributing member of society.”
The organization continues to work toward one of the state of South Dakota’s greatest challenges—providing affordable housing for people with disabilities. The Zachers were on a waiting list for two and a half years to have Patrick live in one of Black Hills Works’ housing units. He made it to the top of the list in March and moved into a group home. It was just a month later that Angie, his mother, was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was divine intervention,” Joe says, as they would not have been able to take care of Patrick during her chemotherapy diagnosis and treatments.
Making a difference
Direct support professionals play a critical role in the lives of people with disabilities.
“I don’t know what we would have done without Black Hills Works,” Angie adds, the gratitude and gravity of the situation both very present in her voice. “There was no way we could have taken care of him this past summer.”
Patrick’s director support professional Nicole Roberts remembers hearing about the cancer diagnosis, and realized the timing could not have been more perfect. “Angie just kept saying it was a God thing,” Nicole says. “I get chills thinking about it.”
When Patrick moved into the group home, his parents worried that he might forget them or resent the move, Joe admits.
“We had fears about that, but it’s not the case,” Joe says. “The staff is investing in him so much.”
That’s because people with disabilities thrive when they receive the wrap-around support services that allow them to live life as independently as possible. Joe says his son is an example of the quality of care all people deserve—quality that all humans should receive. If the organization needs anything, he adds, it is the financial commitment from the state and federal government required to adequately support an incredibly diverse population of people with disabilities.
In South Dakota, there are 8,809 people with disabilities currently living with family caregivers. 27% of those caregivers are over the age of 60. * 2017 State of States in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
“There are very severe cases of disability and there are some who just need a little bit of help—Black Hills Works, and so many others in our state, serve the entire spectrum of South Dakotans,” he says. “So, there’s a wide range of staff that they need to hire. It’s a fantastic organization, there’s no doubt.”
Nicole says forming relationships with clients and their families is at the heart of what direct support professionals do every single day, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
“The people we support are definitely our family,” she says. “Relationships are so important. When Angie was diagnosed with cancer, she came in and told us and we sent her flowers on the day of her surgery. That relationship benefits Patrick immensely.”
Contributing to community
Patrick has become an important part of a supportive community at Black Hills Works, Nicole says. “I just love him,” she says. “He’s quiet and he usually keeps to himself. You can walk up to him and think he’s grumpy. And then there’s a light that switches on and he’ll laugh. I just love him.”
For Angie and Joe, it’s that kind of love that gives them peace of mind. When they pass away some day, Angie says, they know Patrick will be taken care of by people who care about him.
Angie says it is a reminder of how critical support is to the organizations and agencies who are supporting people with disabilities. “We’re so happy with this whole organization and we need legislation that supports these organizations—especially financially—because without them, I don’t know what future parents would do,” she says.