James Zoul and Kristen Rupple
I met James and Kristen in the fall of 2011. Both of them were living in the homes of their parents in North San Diego County. They were both 27 years old. They had been in a ‘boyfriend-girlfriend’ relationship for 4 years. James and Kristen and their incredibly supportive families were asking Life Works to create a support plan to allow them to live together and learn how to navigate their lives both as a committed couple but also as young, adult individuals. We have partnered with the Zoul’s and the Rupple’s through an incredible journey that just continues to unfold. In October of 2017, James and Kristen celebrated their 10-year anniversary by getting engaged. Here are some testimonies from people closely related to these two beautiful humans:
“I admire that he is strong and nice and handsome. He helps me to be nice. He loves me.”
~ Kristen when asked what she admires about James.
“What I admire about Kristen is she is sweet. She my fiance. Our aides (team members) help us have a big life.”
~ James when asked what he admires about Kristen and his team.
“Something I admire about James and Kristen is that over the course of 5 years of working with them, they have learned how to be assertive and are often comfortable enough to nicely but efficiently tell each other, their parents, and/or Life Works team members that they would like something else to happen instead. This is huge for someone that has been dependent on others for support.”
~ Micaela, long time team member.
“It’s really opened my eyes to what can be accomplished with team work and perseverance. Though I haven’t been with them long it’s been such a joy to see them opening up and striving to be better in more ways than one. They haven’t allowed their disabilities to stop them from reaching to be better and it’s really helped me view any setbacks or struggles that I’ve had be the reason for them to hold me back. It allows me to see them as an opportunity to be pushed past my limits and grow.”
~ Joseph, team member.
“With the support of James and Kristen’s team, their relationship has continued to develop in a natural, healthy and loving way. The progress they have made living independently while developing a relationship would never have been possible without their support team. They are living a full life that they have chosen. They continue to amaze me!”
~ June, James’s mother
“A wonderful couple whose love and compassion are an inspiration to all of us.”
~ Mary Heed, Mentor
How Communication Keeps Me Safe.
Truly I rely on Life Works to help me greatly with my needs. They make it possible to live a life that is based on my strengths. I kindly am starting to earn money by painting, which currently covers the costs of my materials and art studio. I also volunteer in my community, and I nicely give ability awareness presentations to local schools. Truly I’m always painting and going to the gym that I love and doing many fun things with my support staff. Frankly, I suffer from PTSD. I could not have this life if I did not have good staff that listen to me when I communicate which makes me feel safe.
Truly I like having staff communicate with me by using the letter board and iPad. Greatly I need many ways to communicate, very much like anybody else. Truly because I do not have a voice, I rely on my staff for being my translator. Greatly it's not as difficult as one would think. I point to letters on a letter board to spell out each word, or touch the letters on my iPad. Sometimes I can spell the words without even directly looking at the board because I am using my peripheral vision. Really I prefer to use my peripheral vision when I type because greatly it’s easier for me.
I sometimes recall bad experiences that make me act out. Truly I just need to communicate when I am having PTSD so that my staff is aware of what is going on. Having wonderful staff that are trained makes it easier to calm myself down. Just keeping me busy helps the most. Often times you will find that society doesn't want to wait for you to type something out. Truly I am lucky because my staff demonstrates patience while I type in public. Truly it is upsetting when people finish my sentences for me rather than letting me finish typing. Greatly if there was more awareness for typers such as myself, then I would feel like we were contributing more to society by voicing our opinions. Truly communication is my source of independence
Life Works provides great staff to support me with my life and housing needs. Greatly agencies truly give people like me a voice. Frankly without their support we would have a more difficult time expressing our needs.
Truly I love my team of support staff. Nicely life would not be worth living without the wonderful staff and the agency that provides supports. I am grateful.
Hard Work for Success.
I have a core belief in hard work; never giving up no matter how hard life gets. I have to work hard to achieve my goals. I struggle with physical disability, mental health challenges, and learning disabilities. No matter how difficult those struggles are, I know I can overcome anything I set my mind to.
In 1996, I moved out of my parent’s home to live in group homes and a county hospital. I lived this way for ten long years. During that time, I was experiencing many mental health challenges, one of which was accepting I had Cerebral Palsy. The group homes were an institutionalized environment, which means I was not able to make my own decisions about eating, sleeping, showering and much more. I decided to set goals to live independently, to develop relationships, find a girlfriend, and get my life back. I had to work three part-time jobs to secure first month’s rent and deposit. In October of 2006, I finally had enough money to move into my first apartment with a roommate. I was twenty- nine years old. The first twelve months were a difficult learning experience. I realized how little money I had to get basic food or pay bills and that I did not like living with roommates. Ultimately, I decided that living independently was the best way to go.
Life Works helped me find my own apartment and introduced me to Joy, Tyler, and Darren. We go to social gatherings, have a great time together, and have become good friends. Tyler helps me make friends in the community and he even helped me find my girlfriend Mylissa through an online site called “Ok Cupid”. Mylissa and I have been together for more than 5 years, and we now share an apartment near the beach that has great amenities.
In 2015, just when my life was the best it ever was, I had a setback. I had to have a neck surgery. I was even told by one surgeon that I may not walk again if I do not have the surgery soon which was really scary to hear. The surgery was a success but I continue to suffer from a lot of pain. My physical limitations from surgery in addition to Cerebral Palsy left me unable to work, so I decided to pursue a college degree. I struggle with school, but I have become much more confident with my studies. It has been difficult for me, but I am determined to get my degree and to feel more confident in my abilities, so I continue to work hard in school.
My neck surgery also made me push my physical limitations through exercise. I realized that I had less stress, less pain, better posture, muscle tone, and body symmetry from regular exercise. It has not been easy for me to start and maintain an exercise routine, but I stick to that I can feel my best. In addition to exercise for health, I have made great efforts to eat for health. Teaching myself to eat healthier and convincing Mylisa to eat healthier was difficult, but worth the effort. I eat organic, fresh, healthy foods as much as possible. Mylisa and I watch documentaries together to get educated and stay motivated, and we make constant effort to stay disciplined in weekly shopping. We also take the time to clean, chop and cook vegetables into nutrient rich meals. I amso happy for the changes we have made to our diets and for the commitment we both made to our health. We hope to get married and own a condo or home someday in the future.
In conclusion, my hard work paid off. Although I did struggle with difficult circumstances and life will always have challenges, I am thankful for all of the good things in my life. I will continue to set goals for my future and work hard to achieve them. I am grateful for my team at Life Works because they helped me gain confidence in myself, and to see that anything is possible.
Co-Creation with Nicholas and Kirk
A few years ago, Nicholas and I embarked on this project together. Having known each other since 2010, we've developed a strong connection with each other...a connection rooted in deep respect and gratitude for one another.
We both enjoy talking about the deeper life meanings we encounter on our journey together, and in particular, the polarities that exist in our every day thoughts...light and dark. As humans, Nicholas and I naturally swing from light thoughts, feelings and emotions to dark thoughts, feelings and emotions. We have committed ourselves to aiming for the light in everything we do...or as Nicholas frames it...lightfulness. Thus, The Lightfulness Project emerged. The Lightfulness Project evolved over a couple of years of hunting, capturing and harvesting urban art in Nicholas’ surrounding community. I took photographs while Nicholas embodied what the art meant to him. We would then come home and write some thoughts about each piece. We’ll share some with you here.
Bring People to The Light: Around the same time we embarked on this project, Nicholas dreamt out loud in a visioning session, his PATH. His central image, the sun setting and shimmering light on the ocean, represents his desire to “bring people to the light.”
Enlighten: It is important to pray and be mindful of others when we think about people we doubt. We need to treasure each other. When we feel good about ourselves, we must reflect on what helps us get to this place. Then, we can help bring others to this place of enlightenment.
Flower: We are ultimately all of one earth, connected to one another through the beauty of our universe. We are interconnected, and when we allow ourselves to open up to the beauty surrounding us, we connect to ourselves on a deeper level.
Moving Cars: Life feels divided sometimes. We need to identify for ourselves what creates this division. When we figure this out, we can then push the division apart to create wholeness once again.
Tiger Rainbow: Sometimes we get tired with life and the struggles that come with it… we can hurt ourselves and those around us. When we acknowledge or recognize what other people are going through, and that we share the same struggles, we become a source of support to each other. We have plenty of demons inside of us and we need to understand how to deal with them.