Meet Our Staff: Adnana

Adnana, certified rehabilitation counselor of The Navigator Program, describes her role as “a bridge” between her clients and the vast array of services available to them, something she says the Chicagoland blind and visually impaired community has “needed for a long time.” Whether a client seeks transportation, health care, a job, housing, or a legal advocate, Adnana connects them with what and who they need. People, particularly those who are able-bodied, might wonder why clients would need this service, asking themselves why they can’t simply ‘Look it up?’ For people who are blind or visually impaired, however, whether or not they have learned to adapt to vision loss, Adnana stresses that basic research will often not get someone the results they need.

In a world designed almost exclusively for those with sight, Adnana, who is blind herself, says that vision is our culture’s “chief, most-relied on sense.” Once you lose it, “you don’t just get used to it.” With the loss of sight, she says, often follows the loss “of one’s sense of normal.” Adnana’s goal as Navigator is to return the client to that sense of normal, “whatever that is for them.”

Affordable housing is a common example. Several of Adnana’s clients seek housing they can afford at their income level, which tends to be between %100-%200 of the federal poverty level (i.e., between $12,490 and $24,980 annually). Others seek accommodations for their housing situation, such as the ability to own and live with a guide dog where a landlord would prohibit one. Adnana has referred these clients to legal offices that can provide guidance, advocacy, and expertise. Most recently, Adnana connected a parent with a variety of free-of-charge afterschool programs for her children, programs that the client would not have found on her own amid the stresses of her personal and professional life

Adnana, Friedman Place's Navigator, working with a client over the phone

Adnana, Friedman Place’s Navigator, working with a client over the phone.

When asked about her inspiration to enter the field of social services, Adnana says she’s “empathic. [One of her] core values is to help others…but everyone says that.” She distinguishes what this means to her by explaining that she wants to help others so that they can help themselves. Much like her supervisor, Tony, Adnana is careful not to approach a client and what they need from the perspective of, “If I can do it, you can do it.” The comparison does not elicit help, but precludes it: “Everyone deals with vision loss differently, and for different lengths of time.” By connecting a client to services that can promote their sense of agency, of ‘I can do it,’ she can reconnect someone to their sense of normal and, in doing so, “make a difference in the world.”

Outside of work, one of Adnana’s passions includes reading and writing prose and poetry. She has a lifelong love for storytelling, though she feels her deepest connection to poetry. The visceral nature of the form enables her to best process and express her ideas and emotions. However, with the distance of time and the clarity of hindsight, prose has the same potential for her. Her memoir piece, Rollercoaster to Darkness, was published in the semiannual anthology Behind Our Eyes.

She also helps take care of a four-year-old girl in Bosnia through SOS Children’s Village, an organization that aids hundreds of thousands of children each year through alternative care, family strengthening, education and empowerment, and other community-based work.

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Meet Our Staff: Tony

Meet Our Staff: Tony

Christian Zapata, most often known as Tony, a household nickname from his middle name Antonio, heads Friedman Place’s versatile social services department. His wide-ranging duties include overseeing the whole admission process for prospective residents; providing group and one-on-one counseling; supervising case management; and acting as Friedman Place’s de facto IT department by providing adaptive technology services. Tony describes his and his team’s responsibilities in short as “a little bit of everything” that improves residents’ quality of life and their ability to live as independently as they’re able to.

The variety of Tony’s work at Friedman Place reflects the diversity of his educational and professional past. Prior to his fifteen-year-long career in social work, Tony worked as a computer programmer for General Motors after earning his associate degree in computer science, but went back to school for behavioral science, and then social work for his master’s, in part because he felt his sociable personality was a better fit for working with people. Always technologically inclined, with an early-found enjoyment in learning about and tinkering with electronics, Tony enjoys that he can still draw on his technology skills when, for example, he teaches residents how to use assistive technology such as JAWS, a program that enables users with total or partial vision loss to fully use a PC. Usually, though, Tony assists residents in getting and using Amazon Echo & Alexa devices. “They’ve been so popular, I feel like Amazon should pay me for the advertising,” he says.

Tony, “very family-centric,” spends his time away from Friedman Place with his wife, whom he has been with for fifteen years, and his two children. They share a love for the Bears and for “anything with wheels,” Tony says, an interest due to Tony being a “car guy” ever since he learned, and was able, to drive. Now visually impaired, Tony can no longer drive a car, but he still greatly appreciates them.

Tony’s visual impairment and his approach to it contribute to his abiding mindfulness when interacting and working with residents; though he too experiences vision loss, he acknowledges that he and any one resident do not share the same experience of it. Tony says this nod, at differences in each individual’s life course, experience, and opportunity keeps him from equating residents’ capabilities with his own, assessing potential from the notion of, “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Tony echoes the three other blind and visually impaired staff members of Friedman Place when he describes his work as a dovetail of both work and life experience. While he feels this convergence with the residents he connects with each day, it also becomes vivid when he receives a first-time call from someone expressing interest in living at Friedman Place. Many of these conversations are not just the caller’s first time asking about a place to live, but the first time they have spoken with someone about their experience with vision loss. These callers often approach disability as an identity-consuming trait, confiding in Tony a sadness at the idea that their ‘life is over’ because they can’t see. Tony finds great reward in these moments—when he can tell these callers that, no, their life is just beginning—in which he can provide clarity and validation to people in an overwhelming and possibly traumatic time.

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Meet Our Volunteers: Rod

Meet Our Volunteers: Rod

Rod* Gardner (pictured right) has been volunteering as Friedman Place’s job coach for over one year. Part of Rod’s inspiration to volunteer at Friedman Place stemmed from his relationship with a family friend who was blind. He recalled the successes and the struggles of his friend and hopes to provide Friedman Place residents with opportunities to succeed in gaining work by teaching them how to find work and keep it. He also has worked as a job coach for people with disabilities other than blindness, and when he discovered Friedman Place in his old neighborhood it seemed like a great fit for him.

He offers his expertise in job coaching and job placement services to residents on Mondays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., even though most residents make appointments he occasionally has time to accommodate a drop-in visit. He works with four residents each day. He helps build their resumes, assists in their job searches and teaches them how to conduct searches independently. Rod first learns about residents’ abilities and desires and then works with residents to find a paid or volunteer job. Once Rod gets to know a resident better he incorporates role playing in order to hone residents’ interviewing skills. Rod also helps settle down first-day jitters and provides advice on how to communicate issues that arise with employers or co-workers.

Rod’s many years of experience in the job placement and job readiness field for people with disabilities made him well aware of the challenges that employers imagine when considering hiring someone with a disability. Despite his experience helping other job seekers with disabilities, he was surprised by the extreme bias employers had toward applicants who are blind or have severe visual impairment. Rod’s firsthand experience of the difficulty for those living with blindness to find work makes the incredulous statistic of 70% unemployment nationally for people who are blind or visually impaired very believable.

“Employers don’t think people who are blind can work or be productive, it’s very sad,” Rod said. However, this bias makes him even more determined to succeed. Rod has faced these challenges and has had success partnering with other nonprofits, faith-based organizations and corporations that have provided Friedman Place residents with volunteer and paying jobs.

In fact one resident, a man in his fifties, is doing very well at his volunteer position. He attributes some of this success to getting his foot in the door thanks to Rod, his hard work and determination, and having someone to help him talk through sticky situations at work. This has provided the resident with enough self-confidence to ask his boss for a paid position.

Rod has been a member of the surrounding communities of Lincoln Square and Edgewater, although he currently resides in Evanston with his wife and two cats. They enjoy exercise, music and listening to old CDs, cassettes and vinyl records together.

If anyone can connect Friedman Place with organizations or corporations that would be willing to work with Rod to explore the possibility of paid or volunteer positions for our residents, please contact:

Christian Zapata (Tony), Social Services Supervisor; Christian@friedmanplace.org or call 773-998-9800 ext. 1102.

*Friedman Place recently welcomed Rod to the staff as our new Health and Wellness Coordinator. We are grateful for Rod’s service as a volunteer and congratulate him on his new role in the Friedman Place community. If interested in the volunteer job coach vacancy, we encourage you to please contact:

Beth Elman, Director of Activities and Volunteers;
beth@friedmanplace.org or call 773 989-9800 ext. 1111

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Meet our Staff – Rita

Meet Friedman Place Director of Operations: Rita

Rita helps landscape the grounds of Friedman Place with volunteers and staff.

Talk about covering a lot of ground. Rita worked with staff and volunteers installing the wonderful landscaping that beautifies the outside of Friedman Place.

Rita Scaletta has been Friedman Place’s Director of Finance and Operations for about 14 years now. Her four main areas of responsibility include making sure the building is in good physical shape, overseeing housekeeping, dining services and ensuring that the organization’s finances are correct.

The native Chicagoan possesses an unusual strong work ethic and love for the residents she serves. Full of energy, always positive, Rita is ready to pitch in wherever and whenever she is needed. “I don’t have a typical work day,” she said. “In order to make sure the needs of residents are met, I cover a lot of ground.” Rita would never say so herself, but her management contributes directly to Friedman Place earning perfect scores on the Annual State Review for three years in a row now!

One moment, Rita might call a repair person if a kitchen appliance in the dining hall isn’t working properly. Another time, she might be interacting with someone from housekeeping. At certain times of the year, she puts on her accounting cap (an Accounting degree from Loyola University prepared her for this task) to review Friedman Place’s finances and work with an outside auditing firm.

Rita is proud of her work ethic which she learned while in the Accounting Department at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. “At Lettuce Entertain You, employees were trained initially by rotating each week through various departments and performing various jobs such as food preparation,” she said. She has applied this same hands-on approach when she came to Friedman Place and has continued it ever since.

Her biggest challenge, she believes, is to make sure the individual voice of each resident is heard when a situation needs to be resolved or a problem anticipated before it inconveniences a resident. This is her way to insure the highest standards of Friedman Place are maintained. Furthermore, she loves spending time with residents, taking one of them out for coffee, for example, or participating in the numerous activities such as playing Uno.  It’s a marvelous way for Rita to become familiar with residents, learning about their backgrounds, perspectives and desires.

Rita was born and raised as a Cubs fan.  Outside of being a great mom to her kids, one of her very best and unforgettable moments was to actually be at Wrigley Field during the World Series and watching her Cubbies take the Series.  She also loves attending rock concerts and most recently saw the “well-aged” Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field.  Rita’s daughters inherited her love concerts and when they were too young to see Britney Spears on their own Rita chaperoned them through a very energetic crowd! Her daughters are turning out to be chips off the old block too in other ways.  Together with Rita as a partner; they have opened a pet care service offering a host of services for just about any kind of pets.

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Meet our Staff – Doug

Meet Friedman Place Activities Associate: Doug.

Staff memeber, Doug, out for a walk with residentsDoug is one of Friedman Place’s most visible team members who works directly with residents so they may get the most out of each day. He has been with Friedman Place for 15 years and strives to provide much more for the residents than his work duties require. As a member of the volunteer and activity department, Doug plans, staffs, and creates activities for Friedman Place residents. When he was just 11, his father became disabled and this is what inspired him to work with people who have disabilities. He considers himself a liaison to the residents and offers them support as they dare to try new things an step out of their comfort zones.

One of the most rewarding parts of his job is the daily interaction with residents and how well he gets to know them. “Getting to know residents helps me to figure out how to make their day a little better.” He says that his fifteen years here have flown by and as long as he puts a smile on one person’s face each day, his round-trip 60 mile commute is worth the effort. Doug most enjoys working with groups of residents in art class, playing games like Uno or Crosswords to keep resident’s minds sharp, or assisting their creative expression in a writing group. His primary goal is not to just motivate residents, but to also bring them together so they get to know one another and discover things they have in common. The activity that brings the most residents together is his Saturday music hour where he spins vinyl albums of every genre and the residents join in to sing along and move to the music. Doug’s fondest memories of Friedman Place are the weddings that have taken place here, and being trusted to help grooms pick out wedding rings.

Doug especially admires all of the Friedman Place volunteers and he hopes they know that if they have helped one person here, that is truly a gift to that person. He also appreciates his work colleagues, who bring him joy and laughter and are like family to him.

At home, Doug enjoys spending time terrace gardening and cooking with his partner Dino. The two have four beloved pets – a dog, Belle, two Parrots – Beeker and Baboo, and a fish – Blitzy. Doug’s love of animals stems from cherished childhood memories of  being allowed to have a pet monkey named Mickey for nine years as well as breeding wolves, raising three baby hawks that he found injured, and having a pot belly pig.

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Meet Our Volunteers: Susan

Susan is one of Friedman Place’s longest volunteers – for nearly 11 years, she has come to Friedman Place weekly to engage in a variety of activities with the residents. She always arrives early and the residents excitedly wait to greet her with big smiles and lots of hugs. Her volunteer work varies from playing cards and crosswords with groups of residents to reading to residents one on one. Over the years at Friedman Place, Susan has created a special bond with many of the residents. These relationships have flourished over simple things like a shared love of peanut butter or reciting poems. One resident she reads to in particular has a booming voice and loves poetry. He has been known to recite “The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe on Halloween with his bellowing voice and listening to it is a favorite Halloween tradition of hers.

She is a lifelong resident of Chicago and enjoys watching and attending Volunteer, Susanbaseball games with her husband. Having grown up on the north-side, she prefers the Cubs, but but will attend a White Sox game from time to time as well. Susan attended UIC, where she received a degree in social work, and she speaks Hebrew and Spanish. She and her husband have one son who lives in Israel and while it is difficult to be so far from her son and three grandchildren, she is thrilled to be able to visit them twice a year.

For Susan, volunteering at Friedman Place runs in the family. When she was a young adult, her father volunteered at The Kagen Home (Friedman Place’s former name). He would put on music shows for the residents and bring in cassette tapes for everyone to listen to. Susan cherishes the warmth she feels from our Friedman community and this is what keeps her coming back week after week.

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Community Woven Tapestries

My Mind’s Eye Sees What My Regular Eye Cannot: Community Woven Tapestries

Resident weaving

Weavers at Friedman Place teamed up with textile artist and educator, John Paul Morabito, to create a series of woven tapestries that tell the story of our residents’ unique exploration of color and blindness. Color is among the most visual phenomena. Among the elements of form, color stands out as the least tactile – red and blue feel no different to touch. What, then, does it mean for a blind community to explore color? For people with blindness, color is as nuanced and varied as it is for those with sight. The weavers at Friedman Place have different levels of visual impairment; some have no sight at all, while others have limited sight. There are those who lost vision later in life and those who have been blind their entire lives. Reflecting this, color might be an experience remembered or a phenomenon only understood through language and cultural signifies. Stripped of its visual effects, color still retains its emotive qualities which the weavers have articulated in a series of five striped tapestries.

Weaver at loom

Monthly community discussions were held to serve as an incubator for the exploration of the dialectal relationship between color and lived experience. This began with a call for personal associations with particular colors. When asked about the meaning of yellow, the resident called out associations; the sun, bananas, lemons, traffic lights, Easter, butter, pineapple, etc. Building off this free association, six themes were developed. During initial discussions these themes were formal, material, and exploratory. However, as the project moved forward the themes became increasingly community oriented, reflecting the collective nature of the project and the values of the weavers. Throughout history and across cultures, weaving has been a community effort and is as much about humanity as it is about material.

Exploring eight themes, the tapestries were woven collectively by the community at Friedman Place. Building off the surrealist drawing practice of exquisite corpse, different weavers would come to each loom adding their own interpretations of a given theme onto what was previously woven. The resulting striped cloths hold that narrative in every line of thread. Weaving by its nature is indexical, the sedimentary build-up of weft records time as it constructs the cloth. Accordingly, these stripe compositions become material documents, commemorating a time, a place, and the people that make a community. The themes of the eight community woven tapestries are: My Personal Color, Rainbow/Kaleidoscope, Disco Ball, The Colors of Music, Flags, Party/Friendship, Water As Life, and Memorial.

These tapestries will be on display at Friedman Place from October 17 – October 31, 2018 from 9:00am – 6:00pm. All are welcome to our Opening Event: Celebration of the Arts on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. The opening event will be the first time our Community Woven Tapestries will be on display for the public.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov                      NEA Logo

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