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Becoming more independent

Scott N. Miller
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyMike Richards laughs while the group decides what movie to go see.
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EDWARDS ” After working in the Summit County jail’s detox center, Bridgette Boker knew she could tackle anything. Now, she thinks she’s found her calling.

Since December of last year, Boker, who lives in Dillon, has commuted to Eagle County to help care for a small group of mentally and physically disabled adults. Working for Mountain Valley Developmental Services of Glenwood Springs, Boker tries to teach independent living skills to people who will never be able to live on their own.

Of the five adults in Boker’s care one recent Wednesday, three ” all in their 40s or 50s ” live in a group home in Edwards. The other two, both in their 20s, live with parents or grandparents.

The three older people have spent much of their adult lives in institutions, and haven’t had a lot of individual care. They get that in Edwards, from Boker and others.

The group often takes road trips ” to movies, to Denver, or just to the grocery store. The group also frequently takes part in the Wednesday evening community dinners hosted by the Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Edwards.

“The people there treat us so nice,” Boker said. “They remember their names, and that really makes their day.”

Little things like being known by name can be a big deal for the people Boker helps. And the people in Boker’s care work on some of the littlest things.

One client, Mike, who is confined to a wheelchair, is working these days on learning his numbers, in preparation for making a phone call later in the week.

When Boker asked who Mike planned to call, he quickly blurted “Ghostbusters!” After a little prodding, he finally said he was planning to call a program supervisor he knew from his days at an institution in Glenwood Springs.

Another Mike, a man in his 50s, needed help remembering the safest way to cross a street.

The two women in Boker’s group don’t say much. One may have multiple personalities. Another can build a puzzle intended for preschoolers, but only with some effort.

Sitting quietly on the sofa is Gabrian. He smiles easily and has a strong handshake. He answers questions, briefly but understandably. He is, at first glance, a regular guy in his early 20s.

“Gabrian can do college level math,” Boker said. “But he won’t remember it the next day. It’s like the girl in the movie ’50 First Dates.'”

That means Gabrian, like the others in the day program, has trouble with a lot of things most people take for granted, and certainly can’t live by himself.

But Boker hangs in, trying to help all the group.

“They can’t be independent,” she said. “But we still teach them to be more independent. It’s good for them.”

All of the members of this group seem to have grown attached to Boker. Asked what he’s learned, one of the Mikes says quickly, “To be with Bridgette.”

Boker, in turn, has learned a lot about the people in her care.

One of the Mikes talks easily about food, what he likes to order at a restaurant ” “a hamburger” ” what he likes to make at home ” “peanut butter and jelly.”

“If he was normal, I think he would have been a chef,” Boker said.

While she’s settled in well, getting to the small building in Edwards ” the one just west of the Lake Creek Village apartments that was the Eagle County Charter Academy’s first home ” has been a long trip for Boker.

Born in Jamaica, she started work in the hotel business. She first came to this country on an exchange program through work and landed in Mackinaw, Mich. From there, she went to work for Vail Resorts at Keystone.

“I’d always wanted to be a social worker,” she said. “But I didn’t have the money for school.”

Working for Vail Resorts, and then Colorado West Mental Health Center, she started taking classes at Colorado Mountain College. The job with Colorado West put her in the detox center at the Summit County jail, where she worked for 18 months.

That job was tough, but she had a knack for it, and an ability to calm most of the folks who came in ” people who are, by definition, a mess. “After that, this is easy,” she said.

Make no mistake, though, this is a hard job. The people Boker spends most of her time with are adults who haven’t progressed mentally past childhood. That means she sometimes has to break up preschool-like spats.

“They love each other,” she said. “They’ll fight, but then it’s over. They don’t remember what happened.

“It’s a lot of mind-boggling,” she said. “But when you look at the big picture and what you want to achieve, it’s all worth it. It’s challenging, but these people are totally different than when I got here.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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