The first time I walked into Teresa’s office, I hadn’t anticipated any surprising questions. I’d expected her to ask about wills and estate plans; she’d definitely inquire about life insurance and children’s trusts; no doubt I’d be quizzed on gift taxes and the subject of guardianship. Teresa was, after all, an acknowledged specialist in her field of law; she’d come highly recommended and her fees were exorbitant. But, as it turned out, Teresa’s first question was about praying to the Lord.
Thinking there was some miscommunication surrounding the appointment, I mentioned the fact that I was an observant Jew seeking legal counsel, not spiritual advice. “No matter,” she said, “In one fashion or another, you’ve already been saying the Lord’s Prayer for parents, and that’s why you’ve come to see me.”
Sensing my confusion, she went on to recite:
“Oh Lord, I pray that my child has a long and healthy life, but allow me to live just one moment longer, so that no one else ever has to take on the enormous responsibility of caring for my special needs child. “
Teresa was any attorney, yes, but she was also the mother of an autistic daughter. She was intimately familiar with this particular version of the Lord’s Prayer, but more than that, she knew the best piece of legal advice for my family had nothing to do with estate plans, insurance policies or trust funds.
“Get out of Illinois as soon as possible,” she said, “I keep an office in Chicago for consultations, but my own residency is in Massachusetts.” Teresa then proceeded to tell me that Illinois ranked 49th in the country for funding residential programs designed for special needs adults. Beyond that, she gave me a list of the five most generous states that also held progressive views about community-based housing.
That first conversation with Teresa was over ten years ago. There have been many more since, but in 2007, my family reluctantly embraced the decision to relocate, a sad strategy that had little to do with state funding and more to do with the dismal lack of options available within Chicago’s Jewish community for special needs adults.
Fast forward five years, I can hardly believe the way things turned out. Right now our son is preparing to move into the Libenu Foundation’s first permanent project; it’s a beautifully renovated, fully accessible house located in West Rogers Park.
Shortly after Josh and six other young men settle themselves in their new home, Libenu will establish a second home for young women in Skokie. How did we come so far when the projected outlook was so bleak only a decade before? I want to invite Teresa to see all that Libenu has accomplished and suggest a few changes for her prayers. It turns out the Lord is willing to work a few miracles whenever a community steps forward, challenges the status quo, and ups their commitment to inclusiveness.
I am profoundly grateful to many individuals who have created such a bright future for my son as well as other special needs individuals who live in Chicago’s Jewish community. Teresa was right. In one fashion or another, I’d been praying the Lord’s Prayer for parents all along, but it was the wrong prayer to begin with. So I’ve had to amend it:
“Oh Lord, I pray that my child has a long and healthy life, and allow me to live long enough to see him reach his full potential as an adult member of the Jewish community. Send strength and success to those in my community who have come forward to share the enormous responsibility of caring for my special needs child, and for creating an environment where he can be as independent as possible. Bless those who are committed to the future of all special needs individuals because their dream of an inclusive Chicago Jewish community has now become a reality.”
Joyce Schur is a parent of Josh Schur, a client of the first Libenu home for Men. She is a writer, editor and professional scuba diver