Update: Larry Stanhope’s supported living story was published in Apostrophe winter 2010. ApostropheMagazine.com re-published Larry’s story because it’s a great example of independence and inclusion. Since his story was published, he’s made some changes in his life. These days, Larry works at Cold Mountain Pottery in Billings, Mont. The pottery shop mass produces custom mugs that are ordered and shipped throughout the United States. Larry’s job is to ready the clay before it’s formed into a mug. Read the story here. Find Larry’s below.
It’s one of those slate-gray winter days. What isn’t covered by snow has a coating of street sand and grit. Parking lots do double duty as ice skating rinks.
Customers make their way across the West Park Plaza parking lot just off of a bustling Grand Avenue in Billings. Many are on their way to Hastings with movies to return or with gift-giving ideas in mind. It’s a few weeks before Christmas. The normal hurried pace of Montana’s largest city is a bit more frantic as people try to keep up with task-driven schedules.
Fresh-brewed coffee in hand, shoulders brush past each other on the way to the “new releases” area. Other people take a gander at some of the “Twilight” movie- and book-related material that many teenagers just can’t seem to live without.
Amid the hustle and bustle this morning is one of Hastings’ long-standing symbols of continuity.
Mop in hand and a friendly grin on his face, Larry Stanhope makes sure the floors are presentable for customers. He admits it’s a chore, since there seems to be a lot more slushy grit these days, thanks to winter’s onslaught.
“I keep pretty busy,” said Stanhope with a wry smile. “But it’s not too bad.
These kind of days happen
He knows that these kinds of days happen once the weather turns wet and cold. He’s seen it before and he’s bound to see it again.
He would know, after all. He’s been keeping things clean at Hastings for 16 years.
Stanhope, 55, has been a fixture of the entertainment store since the Clinton administration. In fact, he has been as much of a fixture of the store as the new books or the movie section. He’s seen at least two major moves, three renovations and scores of new employees.
“Yep, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” he said.
Many people wouldn’t know it, however. Stanhope is one of those important behind-the-scenes kinds of people who makes sure things are presentable and accommodating. He serves an integral role in the business so that customers feel welcome when they rush the doors to check out the latest fantasy bestseller or buy the new Rock Band game.
He shows up at work between 6 and 7 a.m. six days a week to do custodial work. Wearing his trademark red cap and a flannel shirt, he meticulously works the floors and bathrooms. By 10 a.m., he’s done for the day and heads out to enjoy the rest of his day.
Weather Channel junkie
He’s known by his fellow workers as a reliable, friendly colleague who does his job well and has an affinity for the Weather Channel.
“He’s very dependable and easy to work with,” said Matt Jeager, manager of the Hastings Billings store. “And he always has the weather forecast for us.”
For Stanhope, it’s just another part of a valued independent lifestyle. A Billings native, he said he was moved around Montana and Wyoming as a child and settled in Billings as a young adult. He was able to find a job in the early 1990s when Hastings was located half-way across Billings at a different site. He stayed with the store through many changes and is still proud of a job well done.
Once he is finished with his daily duties at Hastings, he typically heads home to his South Billings trailer that he’s called home for nearly two decades. He purchased the trailer from his uncle and is proud of the fact that he has his own place. For the past several months, he’s shared it with his new cat, Shelby.
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling,” he said when asked about his independent lifestyle.
Once a week or so, Stanhope will stop by the YWCA of Billings, where he checks in with Jeanette Young. Young is Stanhope’s supported-living specialist who helps him manage his finances and provides some advice on medical appointments and other activities.
The non-profit agency in Billings is recognized as the only YWCA program in the United States that offers a supported living program to adults with disabilities. The goal of the program, according to the YWCA, is to “provide quality services and supports to empower individuals to achieve and sustain a safe, meaningful, dignified and independent lifestyle.”
Referrals to the program are made through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Clients need to be Medicaid eligible.
Emphasis on responsibility
The YWCA supported living program is committed to respecting individual people. It emphasizes participant responsibility and continued development in the skills needed for each person to succeed. The staff offers innovative supports for people with disabilities, so they can live fulfilling lives of independence in their own homes. That can mean everything from showing people how to do laundry to finding solutions to meet transportation needs.
Through a team-oriented approach, the YWCA staff works on developing services that best meet the needs of the individuals so they can be productive and independent members of the community. In Young’s case, that means visiting with Stanhope on a regular basis to discuss money management, his medication assistance, doctor appointments or transportation issues. She personally handles 10 clients, which keeps her on her toes.
“I do the least with Larry because he’s the most independent,” she said.
That translates into short visits where Stanhope discusses troubleshooting difficulties with his Subaru or other activities he’s involved in. The goal, Young said, is to encourage people to be as integrated into society as much as they can so that they can enjoy the kind of independence every other resident of Billings has.
“The idea is normalization,” she said. “We try to teach the person to be self-sufficient.”
Stanhope has grabbed hold of that self-sufficiency, owning his own home, maintaining a job and enjoying life in southcentral Montana as any other resident.
Winter is actually a slower time for him, he admits. He’s biding his time for warm weather when he can do more barbecuing with friends and put his fishing pole back into action. He especially enjoys time at Lake Elmo in Billings Heights, where he caught a large catfish a few summers ago.
“Just filet ’em up. That’s the best way to eat ’em,” he said.
Whether it involves catching fish with a friend, continuing his work at Hastings or hanging out with his cat, Stanhope is living his life on his terms with a calm sense of independence.
Dan Carter is director of University and Government Relations at Montana State University-Billings.
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