Della – A Sense of Belonging

August 25, 2021
Della smiling in front of picture of sunflowers

This month’s Irby Ranch Resident Spotlight features Della, who shared with me how much confidence she has gained since moving into her new apartment back in November 2020. Della and her adorable dog, Dumpling, can often be found strolling through the Irby Ranch courtyard, or walking around the neighborhood. She is also a frequent attendee to our programs and activities, enjoying the cooking classes with Chef Claudia the most!

Della shared with me that she started losing her hearing when she was 4 or 5 years old. She received hearing aids, learned (and is still learning) American Sign Language (ASL), and learned to read lips. She got “really good at it as long as people speak slowly,” she said.

Della’s hobbies and interests include cooking – enchiladas, tacos, cookies, cakes, homemade soup, and more! “Maybe around Thanksgiving I can make a turkey and stuffing and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my friends at Irby Ranch,” she said. Della also enjoys painting, being social with friends, and movies (mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller).

On Living Independently

Della has been living independently since she was 16 years old, having been in-and-out of the foster care system as a child. She was married for 10 years and has three adult daughters. She admits it was tough being a single parent while raising her girls, “especially when I had a disability.” Raising her daughters helped her be responsible and “stay out of trouble,” she said.

Della talks with a volunteer from the Valley Humane SocietyPrior to living at Irby Ranch, Della lived in an apartment building in Livermore for a long time and then in an apartment in Pleasanton for three years. She shared that although they were nice, the rules were too strict and she barely saw people “who were like me.”

When I asked Della what living independently meant to her, she said that it meant, “doing my own thing, staying ‘drama-free’, and raising my kids by myself.”

When it comes to living independently, Della advises those who are interested to:

  • Find a community – a place where you belong and are accepted.
  • Don’t tell people what to do.
  • Give friendly advice and positive encouragement.
  • Know that everything will work out!

On Living at Irby Ranch

When I asked Della why she wanted to move to Irby Ranch, she shared that she wanted a fresh start and to meet new people. “I (now) feel free,” she exclaimed! “I feel accepted for who I am – I feel like I belong here!”

Della is enjoying her apartment and feels that the community is a nice space for her and Dumpling. She said that Irby Ranch is a peaceful and quiet place, in a relaxed and nice neighborhood, and that she sleeps well throughout the night. “There is little-to-no chaos or loud noises,” she said.


Della with mask on standing in front of her apartment door. "Welcome Home" sign in background.
Della in front of her apartment at Irby Ranch.
Della and her friend sitting at a table in the Irby Ranch community room.
Della and her friend, Jennifer participating in an Irby Ranch activity in the Community Room.
Della petting a dog. Pet therapy activity at Irby Ranch.
Della participating in the Pet Therapy activity with the Valley Humane Society at Irby Ranch.
Della holding her painting of two hearts.
Della displaying her painting from a recent, virtual art class at Irby Ranch.
Della holding a bowl of chopped squash in the Irby Ranch kitchen.
Della participating in Cooking Class with Chef Claudia at Irby Ranch.
Della standing next to a stove talking with Chef Claudia.
Della receiving cooking instructions from Chef Claudia.
Della chopping fruit in the Irby Ranch kitchen.
Della chopping fruit in Cooking Class with Chef Claudia.
Della with other residents and Willie the SAHA Maintenance Tech. Sign that says "Thanks Willie"
Della participating in activity to thank Willie, the SAHA Maintenance Tech at Irby Ranch.
Della smiling and standing in her living room in her apartment.
Della in her apartment at Irby Ranch.


Della likes participating in the activities at Irby Ranch, such as the cooking classes (making Quesadillas with Chef Claudia) and watching movies together. She has made a close friend since moving into Irby Ranch. “She (Jennifer) is one of my biggest supports,” she shared. “She encourages me to join activities and helps me with learning and getting better at ASL.”

Della also feels that the Irby Ranch Programs Team, Resident Services Coordinator, and Direct Support staff support her and help her stay strong and confident. “Outside in the world, people don’t understand what it feels like when you have a disability. They (people) stare at you as if we are not normal,” she said. “Because of the support and acceptance that I got here, I feel like a normal human being.”

Thoughts on the Pandemic

When I asked Della about her thoughts on the pandemic, she categorized her comments into two buckets:

The Bad

  • Having a hard time dealing with personal issues
  • Feeling isolated
  • Couldn’t meet people how I did before
  • Didn’t know how to make friends, because I don’t know how to connect and communicate with anyone

The Good

  • Moved to Irby Ranch
  • Everything started to “fall into place”
  • Made a really good friend who understands my situation and crazy sense of humor
  • Met a special someone and hoping that the relationship remains good

Plans for 2021 & Beyond

Della hopes to continue to improve her social skills in 2021 and beyond. She wants to work at getting better talking to people and feeling comfortable and confident in social gatherings. To that end, she is hopeful that she will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner together, in-person, with her friends. I know I speak for many of us when I say, the feeling is mutual, Della!


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Story by: Pratimajit Kaur, Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch Residential Programs Manager
Contributing Writer: Rachel Clark, Sunflower Hill Communications Manager

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