As summer ends, Life Enrichment Options (LEO) faces an uncertain fall. LEO is a local nonprofit that creates affordable housing to support our developmentally disabled neighbors. A care provider manages each LEO home and lives on-site with their family. Lately, we’re not only anxious for the adult LEO home residents with developmental disabilities but also the young people who call LEO home.
As young LEO residents prepare to return to school, an inner voice tells me we’re all in for some trouble:
- Trouble coming up with interesting things to say during ice breaker activities after spending a year inside.
- Trouble returning to “normal” with grown-out eyelash extensions, weird tan lines, and DIY haircuts.
- Trouble as we erupt from isolation like colorful cicadas, returning to real life with experimental styles developed in isolation, or perhaps entirely new understandings of our own identities.
- Trouble accepting those identities and being our authentic selves, out in the world without filters, and worse yet, no block feature.
- Trouble keeping up with homework after months of lost study time.
- Trouble staying focused, feeling overstimulated, and craving the quiet security of our phones during the school day.
- Trouble managing anxiety and depression over the very real, devastating, and ongoing impacts of the pandemic.
- Trouble fixing our sleep schedules.
Personally, I’m most troubled by voices that say people’s fears and concerns are fake, dishonest, or dramatic; that we should forget the collective trauma we’ve experienced and snap back to “normal” this instant. If I’ve learned anything at LEO, it’s that “normal” is pure myth.
Young people: you are worth the trouble. Your security and happiness are worth every day we spend in isolation or stifled under layers of masks. What you’re experiencing is hard, and you deserve better. If you are struggling, please reach out. You belong here; we care about your safety and comfort; we love you.
I understand some of what students are going through in the pandemic. I was homeschooled through high school myself, and I graduated with no local friends and no job prospects in 2008 when the global economy collapsed. For years, I felt alone in the universe, born too late. All the goodness in the world happened before my time. When you’re alone a lot, it’s easy to spiral.
I found out later how wrong I was. The year I was born was the same year LEO was founded. Through all those years of feeling disconnected and purposeless, founders Rose and Leo Finnegan and all our Issaquah neighbors diligently worked to build LEO so one day I would get the opportunity to have my dream job, leading while serving my community.
Today, despite all the chaos, I still see silent heroes working hard to be good ancestors, lovingly creating accessible opportunities for future generations. And that work is our privilege. It’s no trouble at all.
Grace Robinson is the LEO director.