By Jessica Easthope
Once a week Billy and Colleen go for a counseling walk. These days, they talk a lot about the pandemic.
“When COVID-19 goes away I can go back to the bowling alley, going away, hotels, going out to eat, restaurants,” said Billy Chapnick, a resident at one of On Your Mark’s group homes.
The ongoing health crisis has uniquely affected people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At On Your Mark, a non-profit serving adults in that community, the days are built around routines that keeps life enjoyable and stable, but thanks to the pandemic – they were quickly abandoned.
“We’re seeing a lot of increased anxiety, increased depression, increased isolation, especially because of the weather,” said Colleen McKeever, the Behavioral Health Coordinator at On Your Mark.
With an end to the pandemic in sight, Colleen has kept moving toward the finish line.
“We come into work and we just think, let’s advocate for them and let’s make their day good and it goes both ways, I come into work and when I see the guys they make me feel better,” she said.
The rest of the staff at On Your Mark has had to stay optimistic too. Even when there were massive cuts to crucial funding and its businesses closed.
“We have to find ways to make cuts in other services to keep the lights on and pay the mortgage and keep our staff working,” said Jennifer Larsen, the Senior Director of Quality Improvement.
Luckily with the help of private donations and virtual fundraising, On Your Mark is keeping its pace for now, but the threat of COVID-19 continued to creep up. Billy was one of the nearly 50 residents who contracted the virus.
“It’s no fun, I can’t even leave my room, I was feeling sick but I didn’t have a fever, I just had COVID-19,” Billy said.
The city’s vaccine rollout has seen eligible New Yorkers waiting for hours only to be turned away, for some getting an appointment has proved near impossible.
“We can’t take some of our individuals who have other conditions that prevent them from standing on line for hours,” said Ellen Murray the Director of Clinical Services.
When it comes to keeping its residents safe, On Your Mark took a shot at doing things on its own – vaccinating almost all of its residents and finding ways to jump other hurdles.
“We don’t just say it is what it is, medical visits, some of our doctors won’t see individuals because they don’t wear masks, we’ve had to switch doctors, find alternatives to masks, we never take no for an answer here,” Murray said.
Lives have upended, but Billy has so much to look forward to.
“I really want to go to Applebee’s for my 36th birthday and eat inside,” he said.
The pandemic has done everything to hold this community back, but On Your Mark is giving them a head start.