Shangri-La Life: Shangri-La Blog

Jason’s Story: Person-served with autism finds creative and social outlet in writing online novel


by Beth Cain
Shangri-La Specialized Services Coordinator

Jason, 28, gets housing support from Shangri-La and lives in his own apartment.  I have known Jason since he started services here.  I asked him to tell me about the barriers/difficulties he experiences due to living with autism.  He told me that he has “extreme anxiety” around social interactions and struggles to make sense of what others are saying or feeling when he is in a group setting.  Jason also describes the barrier of having obsessive interests that also cause anxiety from the need to have everything be “prefect.”

In grade school Jason struggled to “fit in” with other kids.  He said that he “so badly” wanted to blend in and have friends.  It took him several years to understand that he did not want to change who he was because he was “different” than others.

Jason started reading fan fiction stories online, which he found very interesting. Jason writes under the screen name “Azu” and has over 200 online followers. Stories on this website are based on the “My Little Pony” series.    He said the stories he read were exciting and he would look forward to reading more and more about the characters.

Although he knew he had the ability to imagine stories and create characters, he was hesitant at first to write his own because he did not have the education or experience in writing novels.  The need to “give back” to the fan fiction community helped motivate Jason to put aside his doubts and write his own story.

His novel is based on a female pony name Prism.   “She was inspired from my life and the events I have gone through.  She is a wonderful painter in the novel as I wanted to give her a positive quality despite the negative experiences in her life,” explained Jason. “She lives with autism, as she has an obsessive interest with painting and needing to be prefect as her mother was a famous painter.  She has a fear of people in general and struggles to make friends. I still struggle with this in my own life and it was great to write about Prism’s growth in my novel as to how she is able to cope and overcome these barriers in her life.”

Jason states that his novel will be a 3 part series.  “Over the course of the stories her experiences change her from beginning to end, in a positive way.  She learns how to cope with the social anxiety and accept her differences.”

Jason’s goal for writing the stories was to give people the same joy that he experienced when reading their stories.  He hopes others will be inspired to not let opinions of others affect them or stop them from doing what they want to do.

“I have had 3 people write to me and tell me that I was able to capture their life experiences and be spot on.  Also, how I have helped them cope with negative experiences in their lives,” said Jason.

He went on to say, “Being able to find a safe environment online has helped me express my passion for writing.  It is nice to be able to express myself without having face to face contact with others, as I struggle to interact with people in public settings. Writing has become my creative outlet. I feel that I am really good at it.”

To read Jason’s story, click here: Colors of the Heart

A place to call home was turning point for Mitchel

mitchel croppedWhen Mitchel talks about Peggy Sue — his beloved Chinese Pug, his oldest daughter, his grandchildren, or his treasured tropical fish, his mannerisms are animated and he is jovial; his humor is endearing and witty. His smile, although lacking teeth, is contagious.

But when Mitchel talks about his life prior to seven years ago he becomes a much different person. The life in his large brown eyes dissipates. He becomes reserved and contemplative; remembering a pain-filled past.

Seven years ago, Mitchel, just having been released from prison, was homeless and living at a local shelter. He was haunted by a turbulent past rooted in an unstable childhood and a traumatic early adulthood. He didn’t have a job, a high school diploma, or an income. He was struggling with mental illness and his disabilities. His case worker at the shelter referred him to Shangri-La’s Housing Assistance Program (SHAP).

“Nothing good had ever happened in my life. I didn’t know what else to call it but a blessing,” said Mitchel of the moment he found out that SHAP had accepted his application and that he was going to have a home.

SHAP helped Mitchel find and furnish an apartment, and apply for Social Security. For the first time in a long time Mitchel had a home and a source of income.

“I hated to be in a situation where I had to have help, but it is so cool that [SHAP] is there for people like me who need it,” said Mitchel. “[SHAP] gave me a second chance to come up from where I was. They realized that even though I had made some mistakes, I could still change my life for the better.”

With continued support from SHAP, Mitchel is managing his mental illness and disabilities. He is learning to use a computer and the Internet. He jokes, “I have 12 Facebook friends”. He smokes half the cigarettes he used to, and he uses a bike and bike trailer to get around town and shop for his groceries – scrambled eggs are his specialty. Finding employment with his disability is still challenging and he needs eyeglasses, but overall he says he has “a comfortable life.”

Donnie Newsom honored with Works of Heart Award

DSC_0865Donnie Newsom just finished his sixth year at Shangri-La as a direct support professional. This week he was honored with a Works of Heart Award at the Oregon Rehabilitation Association’s NW Conference. The awards are given to direct support professionals who are outstanding in their field.

Kirsten Johnson, a Shangri-La manager, nominated Donnie for the award.

“Donnie is a caring staff who truly role models for others. His interactions with all are to be complimented. Donnie is proactive. He is always looking for the best way to approach a situation. He is a hardworking and loyal person.

Donnie is the lead staff for a home which has a lot of medical challenges. He assures health issues are addressed. He has great follow through. Donnie has had the opportunity to work with some challenging people and he was been able to build lasting relationships with them.

An example of his ability to adapt to the needs of individuals we serve would be that the home he works in recently had a new admit, Donnie took on the challenge of taking this person to the state fair. Not knowing how this client would react, Donnie came up with a plan on how he would support this person through many different scenarios that could come up. He then proceeded with going to the fair. This person may have missed out on a great opportunity for community engagement, but because of Donnie’s initial investment of time and effort the trip to the fair was a great success.”



Dean Miller honored with Works of Heart Award

Dean soloDean Miller has been with Shangri-La as a direct support professional for 4.5 years. He was honored with a Works of Heart Award at the Oregon Rehabilitation Association’s 2013 NW Conference. The awards are given to direct support professionals who are outstanding in their field.

Riena Eter, a Shangri-La manager, nominated Dean for the award.

” It is with great honor to submit this nomination for Dean for the 2013 “Works of Heart” nomination.  Dean is known by his team members as a person who has integrity, responsibility and empathy.

Dean has supported one individual for the past 4 ½ years.  This person married his lifelong love and Dean help him understand how to be a loving husband. Dean encouraged flowers and gifts and yes jewelry for those special times everyone has in one’s marriage.   Two years ago, this client lost his wife. This was a sad time for all. Dean helped support both his peers and the clients during this time.  When having to make the funeral arrangements not everyone thought this client could help with making choices and selection when it came to burial/headstone, so Dean worked with the director at the mortuary and helped the client create a loving headstone and explained what cremation was numerous times.   I believe what helped this client get thru this hard time was having his rock, Dean, by his side.

Dean has also helped this same client go on vacations, trying new things like flying on airplanes, riding the train and boat rides. Everyone laughs as the client has renamed Dean and has called him “Steve” for the past four years.    Dean has also helped this same client maintain relationships in the community. This client stopped riding the bus and walking around Salem because of safety and health concerns, but Dean makes sure he is able to visit his friends at the multiple south Salem McDonalds locations.

… Dean, he is committed to know and understand each person he supports. He does not see barriers or obstacles, only opportunities for those around him.”

DSC_0909   Dean 2

Helipina Sam honored with Works of Heart Award

DSC_0948Fourteen years ago Helipina Sam, “Heli”, started working at Shangri-La. This week she was honored with a Works of Heart Award at the Oregon Rehabilitation Association’s 2013 NW Conference. The awards are given to direct support professionals who are outstanding in their field.

Jennifer Gray, a Shangri-La manager, nominated Helipina for the award.

“In October, Heli will have worked for Shangri-La for 14 years. She has been a great asset to Shangri-La and to the individuals she has supported over the years. I have had the privilege of supervising Heli for the past 2 years. She is the lead staff for the two homes she currently works at. She is a great team player and works well with everyone. Heli’s daily focus is to ensure the needs are met for each and every person she supports.

There is one particular individual that Heli has truly bonded with. This gentleman lives with dementia and has very quickly had a loss of skills and is dependent on staff support throughout the day. Prior to his decline in health he had his “chosen” staff and would not usually accept assistance from anyone other than those very few chosen people. Even with his decline this is still true. Some staff that have worked with him for many years (including myself) have yet to be “chosen”. Heli, only working with him full time for about one year, has become one of this man’s preferred staff. Their interactions together are full of smiles and laughter. She tends to his needs and spends any extra time she has with him. Heli is a one-of-a-kind caregiver.

Her focus is the medical portion at our group homes and she does a great job ensuring the medical needs are met for everyone. Heli is a self-starter and takes the lead when it comes to ensuring things get done. She is a great advocate for everyone and treats people with respect and dignity. It’s hard to put into words just how great Heli is and how much she has impacted the lives of those she supports.”



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