There are so many stories I can share from my time at Imagine!, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is the story of a gentleman served by Imagine! whom my daughter Haley referred to as “The Muffin Man.”
From what I know of The Muffin Man’s background, mostly gleaned from conversations with him, he was sent to the Grand Junction State Home and Training School (one of Colorado’s state institutions) in the 1950s or 60s. He was probably in his early teens at the time. The reason he was sent away from the small town he grew up in was because he had epilepsy, and his parents were advised by doctors that it may not be possible for him to receive proper care if he stayed at home. He lived with his parents long enough to spend a significant amount of time in the bakery they either owned or worked for, however, and he developed a lifelong love of baking.
Fast forward to the mid 1970s. De-institutionalization had become the norm, and The Muffin Man, like many hundreds of thousands of people across the nation, was taken out of the institution he had spent the majority of his life in so he could live in the community. And like many other people who were moving from institutions at the time, The Muffin Man had some complex behavioral issues, the result of spending his formative years in an environment that was not conducive to developing basic skills needed for community living. The challenge was to ensure that he did develop those skills so he could contribute and be part of his new community.
At first, it didn’t seem like it would work. The Muffin Man was living in a large congregate setting, and was getting in trouble a lot at that time due to various behavioral issues. In the late 80s and early 90s plans were under way to close all larger community congregate facilities and to move individuals into smaller community based settings. The Muffin Man was moved from his home once again. That’s when he came to live at Imagine!’s Manhattan Apartments and became my friend.
When the The Muffin Man moved to Manhattan Apartments, I was working there as the live-in program manager. My daughter Haley was just a baby at the time.
The Muffin Man became quite attached to Haley. When he heard her crying, he would come and knock on my door to make sure she was OK. If he saw that her baby gate wasn’t up when she was running around the apartment, he would take it upon himself to set the gate up.
And most importantly, he began making muffins for Haley every Tuesday.
He later told me that one of the reasons he was so excited to move to Manhattan Apartments from the bigger congregate setting was because he finally had access to a kitchen and could rekindle his love of baking. That love of baking took form in the muffins he made for Haley.
As time went on, The Muffin Man demonstrated that he was able to live more independently, and he was able to move out on his own. But Tuesday was still muffin day, and I had to make sure I went by his place every Tuesday to pick up Haley’s muffins, or I’d never hear the end of it. As time went by, age and complicated health concerns began to catch up with him, and he needed more and more support in his life. Still, he never wavered in his determination to make those muffins for Haley. No longer able to make muffins from scratch, The Muffin Man developed quite a flare for the preparation of Jiffy muffin mixes. And the bond between Haley and The Muffin Man grew deeper and deeper. Blueberry muffins were their favorite!
When Haley was about seven years old, The Muffin Man passed away. But before he passed away, he wrote up his own “will.” In that will, he made sure to leave Haley his rolling pin and muffin tins. Several years later, when Haley went away to college, among the very few items she took with her when she moved were The Muffin Man’s rolling pins and muffin tins.
One of the reasons I wanted to share the story of The Muffin Man is because it shows an important element of our work at Imagine!. When The Muffin Man moved from the institution years ago, he came with a story created by the system – a stigma of years of institutional living, his various diagnoses, his behavioral issues, and what sort of services he needed. Those were important pieces of information, but they weren’t his story. His story is the story I got to know through his affection for Haley and his love of making muffins. I got to hear about his life, his hopes and dreams, from him, not from notes scribbled in a file.
Haley never knew The Muffin Man’s “official” story. She didn’t know his list of problem behaviors, or his strengths or weaknesses or skills (as determined by someone else). She only knew him as The Muffin Man, the person she loved, the person who loved her and made her feel special, the person for whom she drew a window when he was sick in the hospital because his hospital room had no windows and she knew how much he liked to have a window to gaze out of.
Everyone we serve has his or her own story. Our job at Imagine! is to learn the story beyond the paper trail, so that we can assist individuals as they work to find their own purpose in life and so they can contribute to their community through their own unique skills and capabilities. I remain committed to that purpose, and it motivates me every day.
Are you interested in sharing your story for “50 Years, 50 Stories?” If so, contact Caroline Siegfried at email@example.com or 303-926-6405. We’d love to hear from you!