Feature Issue on Person-Centered Positive Supports and People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

A Smiling Phyllis Kolden

A portrait of Phyllis Kolden. Phyllis is an 82 year-old woman with cerebral palsy. Phyliss is sitting in a wheelchair on her porch. She has her hair pulled back in a ponytai and a warm, welcoming smile on her face.

Phyllis Kolden smiles as she sits on the porch of her home enjoying the cool breeze on a bright sunny June day while two men from the Community Energy Projects Program of Multnomah County are helping with weatherization needs at her Portland, Oregon home. I ask Phyllis if she could share with me about her journey in life because she is a very wise woman, age 82, who has a wonderful smile.

I think we can all learn a little more about life simply by listening to Phyllis.

 Rebecca: Tell me about your life when you were younger.

Phyllis: My life as a child was very difficult. I had nine brothers and sisters while living in Minnesota with my mother and father. It would snow quite a bit in Minnesota and it was very cold there, and the summers were very hot. [She looks down]. My father left when I was very young and my mother struggled to raise me and my brothers and sisters. I don’t remember how or when I arrived in Oregon, but I remember that I came here as a young girl. I was a very brave young girl. I used crutches and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and when I arrived in Oregon I was placed by my mother into a large institution for disabled individuals not far from Portland.

Rebecca: What was the name of that place?

Phyllis: [She shrugs her shoulders and looks down]. I’m glad that I don’t live there anymore.

[Phyllis looks very sad talking about the years that she spent locked up in that large institutionalized facility, which she left as a young woman].

Rebecca: Tell me more about your life in Portland.

Phyllis: I married a wonderful man by the name of Carl, then adopted my daughter Pammie, who also has a disability. After I met Carl I began attending Saint Ignatius Church and have attended for over 30 years. I love going to church. My life changed when Carl passed away. I was alone. After Carl died, I was really alone and I was taking care of my daughter Pammie. I felt scared and alone.

Rebecca: How did you come to own your own home?

Phyllis: I don’t know, but I sure like living here, honey. I hope I don’t ever have to move. [She laughs, and watches the men on ladders cleaning her gutters. Then she points to a tree in her yard]. That tree is new. Will it have any flowers?”

Rebecca: Yes, I think it will have flowers, lots of pretty flowers.

Phyllis: I think so too, honey. [She smiles]

[Community Vision began assisting Phyllis several years ago and helped her to buy her home. She and her daughter moved into her house together, but now Pammie is living in another house nearby].

Rebecca: Do you miss living with Pammie?

Phyllis: I miss seeing Pammie, but I’m glad she has her own life.

Rebecca: What are some of the favorite things you like to do?

Phyllis: I enjoy helping the children at My Father’s House, where I volunteer on Fridays. Just one good day after another good day volunteering at My Father’s House.

[My Father’s House is a homeless shelter in Gresham, and she assists parents with children. One morning while Phyllis was volunteering at MFH, a timid little boy crawled up into her lap while she was sitting in her wheelchair. Phyllis hummed and sang to the small 4-year-old while hugging him, until he fell soundly asleep in her arms, and stayed asleep in her arms until his mother arrived to pick him up].

I enjoy visiting the East Portland Community Center in Portland with Meals on Wheels. I like playing Bingo with my friends on Wednesday mornings, and having lunch at Applebee’s and IHOP, and shopping.

[Recently, Phyllis signed up to be an Ambassador with the Oregon Food Bank, which involves traveling to some nearby schools educating students about the programs offered through the Oregon Food Bank and also fundraising events. Phyllis is very active…it is very common for her to ask, “Honey, where are we going today?”]

Rebecca: What is your favorite activity?

Phyllis: Going to church, dear.

[Phyllis attends church three or four times a week. On Wednesday nights, she attends a church in Gresham, having dinner and singing worship songs with other members. She has been attending the Wednesday night service for about three years and has made many new friends.]

Rebecca: Is there anything you can share about your life as “wisdom” to anyone else?

Phyllis: I have a lot of faith in God. [She smiles].

As a support facilitator for Phyllis it’s nice having the chance to see her friends approach her in the community to hug her and say nice words. She simply lights up with a smile and warm hug for them. She calls anyone and everyone “honey.” Yes, anyone who has had the opportunity to have any contact with Phyllis is encouraged by her good nature, faith, and wonderful smile. Funny how we soon forget about the fact that she is 82 because she is a delightful-spirited woman on the go with good things to do with her life.