They say the world around us is returning to normal, but really, what is “normal” anymore? Words like “Zooming” and “social distancing” are now a regular part of our vernacular. How do we go back to pre-pandemic normal after the world was shuttered by this virus that changed almost every part of our daily lives, especially for those with disabilities?
At Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore, we are trying to return to some kind of normal one step at a time. Our programs reopened to adults with intellectual and physical disabilities a year ago, but those warm programs filled with smiles did not look the same. Due to health restrictions, our participants’ faces are still hidden from their peers behind masks and clear barriers. On the other hand, we also adapted our programs to connect with participants who had to isolate at home during the pandemic, which we will continue to weave into our programming for years to come.
Easterseals Camp Fairlee, our year-round recreation and respite option for so many children and adults with disabilities and their families, is once again up and running this summer. However, the camp that was once bursting at the seams is running at half the capacity due to restrictions and staffing issues. Unfortunately, after over a year of little to no breaks from the constant demand of caregiving, not all families who so desperately need respite services from Camp Fairlee are able to access them. The silver lining is, over 200 campers are returning to their “home away from home” this summer after the extended break and appreciating camp that much more.
To say the continued restrictions are frustrating to both staff and families alike is an understatement. However, if the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns taught us nothing else, it showed us how incredibly essential and important services for people with disabilities and seniors are to the community and how vital the people who provide those services are to families, neighbors, the community and the state.
We are extremely grateful that our elected officials recently approved more funding for services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Delaware. This funding is critical to programs like ours, which are chronically underfunded. We hope that next year, legislators will fully fund the programs to continue to address the workforce crisis for I/DD service providers and the social crisis for the people who receive these services — a promise made in the 2018 McNesby Act.
When many of our programs were shut down due to restrictions, caregivers were the shining stars. However, their value and the true need to support them became even clearer. Every year, Easterseals hosts a Caregiver Conference. Last year’s virtual event was wildly successful, as caregivers were able to tune in from the comfort of their homes, while continuing to care for their loved ones. Once again, we will offer this necessary service virtually Aug. 24-26 because our community needs it. More information about the event can be found on our website, www.easterseals.com/de/.
In time, we truly will all be back together again, and things will return to business as usual. I hope we never forget what we learned this past year-and-a-half. I hope the importance and need for programs like ours are never undervalued because in every way our participants matter, our staff is important and our programs change lives every single day.
Kenan J. Sklenar is president/CEO of Easterseals Delaware & Maryland’s Eastern Shore.