Mill Neck Services Helps Former DEC Student Get Back on his Feet
Wani, a former student of Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, has spent most of his life in silence, unable to communicate with the world around him.
Born Deaf, losing both of his parents at a young age coupled with a string of misfortunes, has landed Wani in a nursing home for the past 16 years. The trouble is that Wani, who is only 52 years old—and extremely smart and capable—doesn’t belong in a nursing home: he belongs back in the community. Wani deserves to begin a new journey, experience meaningful relationships and let the light back into his life—a light that has been dark for quite some time now.
When Patricia Gormley, Medicaid Services Coordinator, and Christine Oddo, Associate Director of Mill Neck Services, Inc.—an organization that gives Deaf and Hard of Hearing people access to employment and community services—found out about this, they made it their first priority to break Wani free. Free of feeling trapped; free of thinking this was all that life had to offer; and free of living as though he was already gone.
Upon first meeting, Wani aimlessly walked the halls of A. Holly Paterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale. We headed over to a quiet area to chat, when Wani politely pulled up an extra chair for me—he aptly noticed there wasn’t enough seats for the three of us—and motioned for me and Christine to sit down. Wani stared back at us with heavy eyes—eyes that had seen a lot of hurt, eyes that had given up hope. “I’m just tired today,” he said to us, his fingers flowing through the air to communicate in American Sign Language.
Christine brought him the good news that she was going to visit the new Epic community home in Port Jefferson Station that he would be moving to soon. “It’s really lovely,” she said. “I think you’ll like it.” She went on to explain about the Mill Neck Services program he could join, Day Habilitation—a program for people who are Deaf and have other disabilities, helping them to become more independent through socialization, communication and leisurely activities. Wani’s lips curled up into a smile for the first time all day: it suited him.
Wani was adamant that he wanted to be around Deaf people. Who could blame him? No one knew sign language at the nursing home except for Nick, a security guard. But Wani, who grew up in Harlem, N.Y., was unfortunately accustomed to being unable to communicate with the people around him. “My father died when I was nine; he didn’t know any sign language,” he explained. “My mother signed fluently but she died four years after my father. Then, I went to live with my aunt who knew some sign, but not much.”
When Wani was 19 years old, he attended Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf—a school that helps Deaf children to unlock their potential through quality education. “I really enjoyed it there,” he said. But while in school, the tragedies that Wani endured during his childhood caught up with him. He was thrown into an unfathomable depth of depression. Unable to think of a way out, Wani suffered a self-inflicted injury that caused him to have seizures, ultimately landing him in an extended care nursing facility.
“My mother and my father were gone and I was so scared and alone,” Wani recalled. “I didn’t have Mill Neck’s phone number; I kept looking through the phone book.” Christine signed “I’m sorry” with her hand circling her heart. “But we’re here now.”
“I trust you,” Wani replied. “I know you’ll get me out of here.”
Wani’s story is leading example of the isolation and helplessness a Deaf person can feel when they aren’t given the right tools and resources. But Wani’s story is also one of strength and perseverance. His future finally looks bright: Mill Neck Services will make sure it stays that way.
For more information on Mill Neck Services, Inc. or how to help individuals just like Wani, please call 516-922-3818 or visit millneck.org/our-services/community-services-for-adults-and-children/.
Disclaimer: All stories regarding Mill Neck Services participants have been reviewed and approved by respective subjects.