Residence program director recalls vacations with residents

Sr. Kay Crumlish and Bibi

Sr. Kay Crumlish, RSM

Age: 74

Who is she: Executive director of Mercy Home, a residence program for adults living with intellectual challenges

Lives in: Richmond Hill, NY

Sr. Camille: We're having this conversation during the summer -- a time when many take vacations away from home. You, of course, have done this; however, at times with an unusual entourage, the residents of Mercy Home. How would you describe them?

Crumlish: For the past 35 years I have had the privilege to vacation with the residents of Mercy Home who are intellectually challenged. Some came to us when they were children, but today all are adults.

Where have you taken them?

In the winter we've gone to Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskills to get in touch with nature and had some fun while learning cross-country skiing, tubing and sled-mobiling. We've made cider and baked apples while having a sing-along. Everyone, staff and residents, has enjoyed the experience.

In the summer we have gone to Pinegrove Dude Ranch for our first experience of horseback riding. We loved Willow Valley Resort in Pennsylvania with its three pools and spas. It was also near Hershey Play Land and a peach-picking farm. The meal plan was a brunch and dinner buffet. We certainly got our money's worth.

Do I remember that you've also taken them on plane trips?

We've gone to Disney World [in] Florida. We first went in 1984 with the 10 guys and staff from Jay Street. We flew into Orlando and were bused over to Disney World hotel while another staff and myself picked up vans to transport us around. We were there seven days and six nights. Srs. Mary dePorres and Joseph were a great help on this trip. Since then we have taken up to 90 residents and their staffs. Each time the groups were given more and more independence to plan their activities, but we always had one meal together. Dinner with the Walt Disney characters was a favorite.

You are far more than a travel guide and companion. Please describe your relationship to these men and women.

I'm a friend as well as a protector -- planning the trip and the check-in person to ensure everything is going well and everyone is having fun.

Our residents love the trips and are always asking when we're going back. Once when we returned to JFK from Disney, one of the residents -- Taron -- got back on the line to return to Florida. It took a lot of talking to get him into the van to go home.

When did you embark on this ministry?

In 1980, I began working at Mercy Home as assistant manager with Sr. Mary dePorres as manager. We were a great team and she encouraged me to dream and do.

You've been at this 35 years. You were much younger when you began. Surely you've had to slow down somewhat.

Now I don't go on the overnight trips with the guys and gals. The staff and residents now take part in planning their vacations and Jyoti Lakhani, our recreation coordinator, helps with final plans.

Do any of these trips stand out in your mind?

It's hard to just tell one story. Each experience was delightful. It's a true joy to see all [the residents] enjoying themselves -- like everyone who goes on vacation.

How has Mercy Home adjusted to its population's changing needs?

Because there are families that want to keep their special needs children at home, but who need some time for themselves, we have a respite program for autistic children and teenagers and adults.

Consonant with our efforts to encourage each person's talent, we have a band called Melodic Soul, a creative arts program for children and our creative artist program for those in group homes.

What causes concern for the running of the agency?

Funding continues to be a looming financial challenge; however, we are a family, and thanks to the fundraising efforts of the board of directors we continue to offer enhancement programs and vacations that enrich the lives of everyone at Mercy Home.

How would you describe the staff that serves your hundred residents?

The staff is courageous, supportive, caring and genuinely loving to the residents. They sacrifice to make sure the residents do as much as they do.

Does help come from anywhere else?

Mercy Home has a very supportive encouraging board of directors. Many of them love to participate with the residents at fundraising events and other programs.

Do you learn anything from the population you serve?

Residents teach us 'unconditional love' and encourage us to do our best as we see them struggle to do the most common acts that we take for granted.

What did you do before entering this field?

I taught elementary school for many years in Bed-Stuyvesant and along with two other Sisters of Mercy helped administer a junior high school that the parents in Bedford Stuyvesant founded.

What led you to and prepared you for this ministry?

My mom and dad were great role models. They accepted all people and invited them into our lives and homes. We saw the good in each person and accepted them as they are.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn.

What was your childhood experience like?

It was a fun, carefree experience, but my sisters and I were taught responsibility with household chores and doing homework. We had lots of friends and on weekends met our aunts, uncles and cousins in Prospect Park. We were a close family.

What schools did you attend?

I went to St. Jerome's elementary school, Bishop McDonnell high school, St. Francis College for my B.S., and Hunter College for my M.S. I also attended Adelphi University for a certificate in business administration.

What drew you to the Sisters of Mercy?

I had the Sisters of Mercy in elementary and high school. I admired that they enjoyed life, and had a smile on their face and could take a joke.

What form of prayer most nourishes you?

I love the quiet and reflective prayer of mediation.

Do you have a favorite Scripture passage?

It is hard to choose, I have several: 1 Cor 13; Psalm 16; also Mark 10: 13-16 and Psalm 84. My prayer is the Suscipe of Catherine McAuley.

How do you relax?

I enjoy being with my family and friends for parties or just to go out for lunch. I also enjoy going to both Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemption, is available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

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