Counting Her Blessings: MS Patient Assumes New Life, Housing Stability, Healthier Outlook

2017. A turbulent time for healthcare and other social services affected by the recent presidential election. Financial cuts in Planned Parenthood and PBS may disrupt access to birth control and public educational programs…which social sphere will be targeted next? Opposition to building or refurbishing new properties for the homeless and modest means communities— also known as NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard— separate populations by class and background. The relatively small population in favor of drawing a broad line between homeownership and assisted housing are misinformed of who and what affects property value; their efforts could indirectly affect housing and potential recipients of allocative services. People in need of affordable, safe housing could find themselves without an opportunity to receive housing assistance if there aren’t enough supporters to help make their dream a reality. Luckily, one determined woman with MS set out to make stability work for her, and she hopes the same for anyone else struggling.

Diana Hayes was a homeowner decades earlier when she realized her husband did not have the same outlook for the future or caregiving intentions for raising their son, James. She divorced her partner, took her son with her, and found a partner willing to work on a life together.

In spite of a new relationship, Diana was increasingly nervous and forgetful: symptoms of depression and an anxiety disorder. But she didn’t realize there was more to her behavior than psychological turmoil. Frustrated, Diana decided she didn’t want to live in Saugerties at The Mill anymore, and she wanted to be in Kingston where she felt more comfortable.

“So I got up and went to Kingston, and I had no idea where I was going but I ended up at my son’s house, Hayes recalls. “They put me in the hospital, because obviously I wasn’t thinking correctly, and I ended up in the psych ward. It was there that they realized I was taking four medicines for anxiety that were conflicting, and causing me to act up.”

The doctors explored her symptoms and discovered Multiple Sclerosis was the target stressor. Not good news. Although shaken during her intensive hospital visit, she mustered enough courage to re-evaluate her role in the world through a positive lens. “I’m not a person to be ashamed of what I’ve been through. Maybe there’s somebody out there that needs to hear this because they’re going through something similar and are looking down on themselves… Different things in this life happen to you. Everyone has different experiences, different ways that they deal with those experiences. It doesn’t make you a good or bad person. It’s choices you make that make you who you are today.”

Yet Diana didn’t know where she would end up after her hospital stay. While recovering from the crisis, she overheard another patient state a plan to go to Washington Manor after discharge. Unknowing of the institution, Diana told her doctors that’s where she wanted to go too.

Diana moved to Washington Manor and was fairly happy; she thought she was in communal residency, then an acquaintance told her that the manor was a homeless shelter. Diana was shocked. She knew she needed a place to get well, a home to manage her MS. A quick phone call to her partner Bobby, the truth was laid out, the couple reconciled.

Her husband’s emotional support was enough for Diana, but it didn’t bandage unpaid rent. Too many expenses added up and low income couldn’t cease the flow of bills. Foreclosure was near, and they needed another option, fast. The couple applied to apartment living in RUPCO’s Woodstock Commons in 2013, during the first wave of waitlist applications. Once accepted, the couple moved into a brand-new energy-efficient housing with amenities for the disabled. To complete the move, Bobby and Diana adopted Leo, a medium-sized, four-footed companion. New family, new house and more support, Diana and Bobby were set in a safe space with friendly neighbors, surrounded by nature and blocks away from the village.

Their new apartment at Woodstock Commons provided access to medical suppliers and grocery-store chains. Diana could manage her potentially life-threatening situation with emergency medical care close by. Equally important, she had community at her doorstep. She could walk outside and see children playing or strike up a conversation with neighbors. She is able to experience a wider and deeper approach to life, to appreciate grand gifts afforded by support services. “I love the different ages, different people who live here, all unique in their own way. I like to the gazebo, even though I’m not a smoker. I love to sit on the bench with Leo and watch the kids—it gives me great joy.”

Diana reflects on the intergenerational campus and the beauty around her. She’s thankful for the opportunity to appreciate what she is given, and wishes the world would take small steps towards humble living, to be in tune with priorities. “I didn’t realize before I got sick how blessed I was, and now I’m more blessed than ever. MS has taught me to appreciate things that are around me all day. I wasn’t living, I was just existing, because I wasn’t taking in any of the beauty that was around me. Now, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, the sun is shining, and look at the flowers and the bees’… I’m like a child.”

At RUPCO, we believe a trip to a psychiatric ward shouldn’t uproot a stable home life. A mental illness or physical disability (or both) shouldn’t keep someone from affording a safe, comfortable home. A sphere of health, happiness and well-being affects an individual and others close to them. Housing doesn’t just affect the one person directly involved, it is a communal experience that ripples out into the economic world and targets many people  through countless interactions. Helping people through assistance programs—like RUPCO—enable growth and productivity across the board, and lead to many happier, more stable lives.

Hope Through Activism: Lanette Hughes Inspires Through Artwork

Standing outside The Lace Mill, wearing over-sized black sunglasses, talking to a neighbor, Lanette Hughes appears nondescript. A cordial, “Hi, how are you?” to a stranger, she resumes her conversation. You would never guess she churned her tragedy into art in a profound way. A first-hand experience with domestic violence, her identity stolen and her savings robbed from her, these life-lesson setbacks made her willpower stronger. Lanette Hughes is not only a survivor, but a thriver — and her artwork embodies her understated vigor.

Hughe’s parents introduced her to situations at an early age that called for toughening up. They lived in Europe withinin target sites of WWII battle and concentration camp zones. While transitioning between countries, she found it difficult to reconcile that she had friends from opposing countries post-wartime. Her parent’s trip to Dachau further fragmented her sense of peace. The air-raid rubble and abandoned buildings that littered some streets haunted her as a child, a terror still raw when she thinks back.

Recently, Hughes channeled that experience into her artwork, “Human Beings are Not Created for Target Practice.” The large canvas oil painting highlights military personnel . If stripped of their uniforms, would they have reason to shoot the enemy? Hughes bears no bias towards “good” and “bad” sides where nationalism incurs.

She is, however, partial to beautiful art. While living in Germany, Hughes remembers trekking down to monasteries and playing nearby. One day while climbing a wall enclosure surrounding St. Michaelsberg, she fell and hurt herself. Monks brought her in, and she was introduced to wondrous sculpture and paintings within. Inspired, she asked her parents to hire a governess educate her in classical art training and illumination found in religious texts.

Being a sensitive artist and a newcomer whenever her parents moved, she stood out from the crowd. Coming to the United States, she was sorely misunderstood for her European values and mannerisms. She was often bullied and put down, and over time, these experiences impacted her artwork.

She was a target again a few years back, after she returned from a trip to Florida to find her identity stolen. Her home, savings, and future fell through her hands. Hughes became homeless, living out of her car, where she slept and traveled for weeks in Woodstock. She refused to give up her dog when Social Services prompted her to do so, so she could receive a no-pets hotel room. Deprived of everything else, she wasn’t relinquishing her four-footed companion.

Hughes kept her spirits up and applied to housing assistance programs in the local area that would allow dogs. At the time, RUPCO was accepting applications for The Lace Mill for artists. She applied to the lottery  and the patterns of the universe aligned with her needs. “In the miracle of miracles, I got RUPCO housing. And I love it here—every day I thank my creator for this fabulous place and all the friends I have made.”

Hughes realizes that others don’t have it as good. At her last exhibition, held at The Lace Mill in October 2017, Hughes combined her activism with her art show, and made a stand for something larger than making money. She created 50 pieces for sale, where 75% of proceeds benefited local charities. One of her paintings benefited the Haitian People’s Project to provide meals for afflicted families. Consistently without food, Haitian parents often feed their children “mud cakes.” These look like pies, but made of mud, and eating them causes malnutrition and infection. Hughes wants to help in her way, through her art and social activism.

Hughes is proud to live in an apartment where she knows her efforts are supported. She’s made many connections to Kingston nonprofits and continues to support human rights in the way she knows best. Her influence has already been felt among the community; one man started to cry when he saw one of her paintings regarding domestic violence. “’This happened to me, and I’ve never told anybody,’” Hughes recalls. “It really touched him. He didn’t say whether it happened to him, his mother, wife or girlfriend, but it happened to him somehow.”

Her paintings possess an understated emotional impact. She doesn’t wish people to turn aghast, but she wants her visual to resonate with them. She wants people to know that there is awareness, that others have been through similar situations, and the often misunderstood pain — maybe portrayed as endless swirls or spirals in her abstract work — is normal and valid. She connects to her audience on a personal level. “I don’t like the word authentic, but I try to be sincere about who I am. I’ve been through things and I try to relate that to other people.”

Maybe malnutrition, abuse, or trauma has robbed a person of identity, and they use public facades to hide the pain. By recognizing themselves in her work, a part of them is resurrected and recognized. Maybe it will take years to fix, with in-between years of denial. But something clicked, and that is what activism is all about.

Hughes has changed her perspective on earning a living and being an artist. “I don’t need as much as I thought I needed to make me happy. I’m happy with or without. But the fact that I can paint whatever I want is an incredible blessing. And because I live here, I can do that.”