Jennifer – A Choice To Do Things My Way

February 3, 2021
Jennifer in front of Irby Ranch sign

It’s been nearly five months since residents began moving into Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch, and so much has happened during that time! As the Residential Programs Manager, my mission is to engage with each and every resident. I create programs and activities designed to build confidence, foster independent living skills, and encourage residents to engage with one another to build social skills. But mostly, I want to make sure residents are having FUN as they get used to their new homes!

While the global pandemic has certainly put a damper on being able to have face-to-face programs and activities, those who are living at Irby Ranch have been able to participate in weekly virtual activities. It is exciting for me to see that lives are changing each and every day at Irby Ranch.

One of the residents who is a frequent participant in activities is Jennifer. I first met Jennifer, who is deaf, when she came in to sign her lease. She had the biggest smile on her face and was very animated when she communicated via American Sign Language (ASL). I thought that perhaps her exuberance was because she was excited to sign the lease on her new apartment! What I have realized over the past three months as we’ve gotten to know each other is that Jennifer’s smile, her constant joy, and her confidence is integral to who she is and how she gives back to her community.

(Click on “CC” to turn on Captions)

I sat down with Jennifer, via Zoom, to talk about her life and goals. Immediately a few things became clear: Jennifer has a cat named Gadget who is quite the character; Jennifer is very lively and wears a constant smile; Jennifer is a huge Golden State Warriors fan and loves Stephen Curry; Jennifer loves meeting and making new friends.

Jennifer has been living independently for about four years. Prior to that she lived with her mother in San Jose for 44 years. When her mom passed away, she moved in with her sister for a while before finally finding an apartment of her own.  With over 60% of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) living with an aging parent,* the need to develop independent living communities with a broad scope of programs and amenities, like Irby Ranch, is very critical.

“It is hard to figure out how to go about (living) independently,” she signed. “When you have IDD, people look at you differently and think you can’t live by yourself. But, you can do it!” This statement was my first indication that Jennifer, always so positive, was also adept at mentoring.

As a resident at Irby Ranch, Jennifer participates in nearly all of our activities and encourages other residents to participate too. She uses her confidence and enthusiasm as a great mentoring tool in helping other residents overcome social hurdles. Jennifer is THE BEST at convincing people to attend an activity; and the best at getting people to smile too!

Along with meeting and making new friends, Jennifer loves animals. She has a deep bond with her snow-white cat, Gadget who is also deaf. Despite the fact that Gadget used to be her sister’s cat, Jennifer feels that Gadget is now hers. Jennifer signed “soulmate” when she described her relationship with Gadget. Gadget was indeed present (and vocal) during that call, choosing to wander in front of the screen numerous times trying to gain Jennifer’s attention. Jennifer’s sister, Jeanne, also joined us during the call and acted as translator. I asked Jennifer questions on several topics. Here were her responses:

On Living Independently
Jennifer admitted that “it’s hard to figure out how to live independently. There are a lot of things to learn and a lot of paperwork,” she signed. Jennifer feels lucky and very grateful though to have had help from her two sisters with paperwork and other processes along the way.

I asked Jennifer what being independent means to her. She signed that it means she can, “go to doctor appointments by myself, go to (the) store with very little help.” I must admit that I laughed when she signed that since she has her own place now that it also means she can, “clean whenever I want.” I think this is the dream of so many of us when we move out on our own; to take charge of our environment in the way we want! But I was really moved by her final comment on what living independently means to her: “(A) choice to do things my way.” I think sometimes that being given a choice can lead to independence, which can foster confidence, and leads to greater independence. What a beautiful circle!

On Living at Irby Ranch
Jennifer moved to Irby Ranch to be in a community with her peers and to live in a more accessible-friendly apartment. She signed that she loves living at Irby Ranch! It has provided an avenue for her to utilize her skills to mentor and teach others in the community. In addition to her excellent social skills, Jennifer is also helping others learn sign language. Currently, she is teaching her friend and neighbor, Della, ASL, and also encouraging her to join activities and helping her with signing into Zoom.

Jennifer enjoys walking with other Irby Ranch residents to the Pleasanton Farmer’s Market each Saturday, and making new friends like Della, Jennifer T., Bruce, and Austin.

As for her apartment, there are “so many windows, it’s comfortable and bright,” she signed. All the light means that she can happily pursue some of her hobbies: plastic sewing patterns, making baby clothes, puzzles, making decorations for every holiday, and crafting. Also, the larger living spaces designed for Irby Ranch, makes moving around her apartment with her wheelchair much easier.

Jennifer smiling
Jennifer in front of Irby Ranch sign
Jennifer in front of the Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch sign.
Jennifer with wheelchair in apartment
Jennifer in her apartment at Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch.
Jennifer and sister who is making funny face
Jennifer and her sister, Jeanne.
Jennifer and family and friends
Jennifer with family and friends.
Cat laying on couch on blankets
Gadget, Jennifer's cat, lounging on the couch at Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch.
Cat hiding in kitchen sink
Gadget being nosey in the sink.
Cat sleeping on window sill in sun
Gadget enjoying the sun at Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch.
Jennifer in cat Halloween Costume
Jennifer at Halloween at Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch.
Jennifer with tree art she made
Jennifer crafting.
Jennifer on tractor
Jennifer on a tractor.
Jennifer Golden State Warriors t-shirt on
Jennifer in her Golden State Warriors fan attire.
Plastic flowers
One of Jennifer's creations.
Jennifer with "ugly" christmas sweater
Jennifer at Christmas.

Thoughts on the Pandemic
Moving to a new home is always a challenge, but doing so during a pandemic is extra challenging. Yet Jennifer made the move and transition despite the obstacles. Stay-at-home restrictions have been difficult for Jennifer, who admits that it’s been very hard having to stay at home all of the time. Before the pandemic, she enjoyed traveling and taking the bus independently, but doesn’t always feel comfortable doing so now. Also, with the state-wide mask mandate, Jennifer’s lip-reading skills are greatly hindered. “It’s very frustrating,” she signed. Despite the challenges, Jennifer lists two good things that have come out of the pandemic: smaller family get togethers, providing more opportunity to connect individually, and learning how to use Zoom.

Plans for 2021
Like so many of us, Jennifer hopes to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s her time. Her niece, who lives out-of-state is getting married and she hopes to be able to fly out to the wedding – it would be her first time on an airplane! Jennifer also hopes to be able to play basketball and do yoga with friends in the courtyard at Irby Ranch. Jennifer loves swimming (especially in warm water) and can’t wait to try out the hot tub as well. She is also hoping to be able to start volunteering again soon – hopefully with animals.

I’m so grateful that Jennifer is a resident at Irby Ranch. She is so positive and full of joy, sharing that excitement with other residents. Her mentoring skills and the way she encourages other residents to participate in activities helps me to be a better programs manager. I’m so thankful that she had the “choice to do things (her) way.”


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

*Statewide Strategic Framework for Expanding Housing Opportunities for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities




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