When I Support Penn-Mar, I Support My Daughter and All Our Families - Penn-Mar

When I Support Penn-Mar, I Support My Daughter and All Our Families

Posted on October 11, 2022

By Claudia Summerson, Co-Chair/Family Division | Penn-Mar Building Bold Future Campaign
Two women smiling

Abbie and Claudia

The hardest thing I have every done in my life was to put my daughter Abbie in the care of Penn-Mar when she was only 22 years old.  

Diagnosed with autism at age 7, she requires professional, round-the-clock care to help manage her behavior, anxiety and OCD. 

When Abbie was young, our family went to great lengths to try to give her what we thought of as a “normal” life. Yet there were many times when I felt like I failed her when she couldn’t always achieve that standard.  

Like so many of us, Abbie loves spending time with family and friends, enjoys music, watching TV, reading newspapers and magazines and dining out. But her journey has been an arduous one, with behavioral issues often getting in the way.   

Abbie’s autism, anxiety and OCD characteristics interfered with many of her functions but we always tried to focus on her strengths to help her discover her best life. 

When she was younger, she attended kindergarten with no supports. She moved on to an autistic class, but we eventually transferred her into a life skills program where her autistic “label” was not her defining characteristic. There, she was treated like the unique, loving individual that she is. 

Once Abbie completed her schooling at age 21, my husband Kevin and I faced the reality that we will not be here forever to take care of her. So instead of leaving her future to others, we were determined to settle her into a new home where she would be comfortable with her caretakers and routines. 

Her early days at Penn-Mar were an adjustment for all of us. But 15 years later she is happy in her home, thanks to incredible perseverance and the passion and dedication of the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) working with Abbie.  

Family of 4 smiling

Abbie, her brother Doug, Claudia and her husband Kevin

In what she refers to as her “apartment” (attached to a group home), she receives 24/7 care, has a structured routine and everything in perfect order to counteract her OCD. And even with her short attention span, Abbie is able to enjoy leisure and volunteer experiences in the community. 

I always say, “God gave me two hands,” so I do whatever I can to support Penn-Mar, my daughter, and by extension, all of the individuals and families aligned with the organization. 

I am not a professional speaker but I can be passionate when it comes to advocating legislators for increased funding for training and wages for the extraordinary services our DSPs provide. 

I have often wished I could pen a poem entitled, “I’m Just a Mom” to better express why it is so essential that these DSPs receive their just due for the loving care they have provided to the daughter I love and to so many other individuals with disabilities. 

Currently I am co-chair of the Family Division for Penn-Mar’s Building Bold Futures Campaign. I am contacting our families to contribute to this $7.5 million private support campaign to ensure that Penn-Mar will be around through Abbie’s lifetime to transform its delivery services, grow its endowment fund and transform its space to house stronger, more efficient programming. 

I urge all parents and siblings to support Penn-Mar, not just by contributing to this campaign but in whatever capacity you can serve best.  

The necessary innovations and growth at Penn-Mar will not be possible without the generosity of our families. All of us can, and need to be, part of the change that will secure Penn-Mar’s future. 

To learn how you can support Penn-Mar’s Building Bold Futures Campaign, visit https://buildingboldfutures.penn-mar.org/ 

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