When her mother died, Lupita was nearly drowned, not only in grief, but in the relentless waves of goings and comings. She was 36-years-old, intellectually disabled, and wheelchair bound due to the effects of cerebral palsy. She and her mother had lived in the same home together in Calexico for all of her life.
Then Lupita watched her mother die one day, in the same home they’d shared for nearly four decades, of a sudden heart attack. She had to call the paramedics on her own. And when they arrived, they said, “It’s too late. She’s gone.”
Though caught in the swells of fear and grief, Lupita had few options. She had no family. She couldn’t stay in the home on her own. Her mother, her best friend, was gone. And Lupita had nowhere to go.
“We heard about Lupita from a case worker,” says April Amado, Mountain Shadows. “Since I grew up in Calexico, I volunteered to go and meet her and evaluate whether she was a good fit for Mountain Shadows.
“When we met her, Lupita was devastated. She was crying, ‘No! I want to live on my own!’ Due to her condition, that wasn’t possible. So, I reached out and offered her a hand of support.
“One week later, after she’d had time to make a decision, Tamara Degner and I drove to Calexico to get Lupita and bring her to her new home, Mountain Shadows.
“But first, she had to sell everything – the TV, the sofa, the bed, everything. She had to clean out the entire house. Some of her neighbors helped, Tamara and I helped, even my mom and grandma helped.
“Lupita was so sad, and very nervous about coming to Mountain Shadows. She was very reluctant to leave her home, the town, the people she’d known all her life.”
Lupita was quiet as she got on the Mountain Shadows bus to leave Calexico. A few neighbors waved as the bus drove away; they watched and waved until they could see her no more.
There she goes. She’s gone.
As a ship spreads wide her sails to the morning winds, Lupita left one safe harbor for the next.
Here she comes! She’s here!
“The residents of Crepe Myrtle were very excited that Lupita was coming. We made a huge ‘Welcome’ banner and had a big party to welcome her to her new home. It was very special, very welcoming, supportive, very positive. Lupita was overwhelmed, in a good way.”
“It was a difficult transition for Lupita,” says Shawnee Johnson, Mountain Shadows. “As with anyone who has lost a loved one, she thinks about her mother often. There were lots of tears at first. Unpacking that first day was very emotional for her. But the staff members were there to support her.
“Lupita was very forthcoming about sharing her life with us; she showed us photo albums and talked about her mom. She showed us pictures of when she was a baby, of her prom, pictures of her mom.
“At one point, Lupita got very emotional. ‘I miss my mom!’ she said, and then she broke down crying. The staff members all went to her. There were a lot of hugs. I think that was a vital moment. It was a moment, the first moment that Lupita really knew that her life was now at Mountain Shadows, that everyone at Mountain Shadows would support her. She started crying even harder and said to the staff, ‘I want to put my arms around all of you!’
“While it has been a continuing process, Lupita has grown a lot since she’s been at Mountain Shadows. She’s made friends and is very socially active. She’s joined the Self-Advocacy group, loves dancing, listening to music, going out to dinner.
“Lupita goes to Mountain Shadows Outreach. She really loves the social environment there. When I ask her about her day at Outreach she says, ‘Oh my god! I had so much fun! I made new friends!'”
Adds April, “She was invited to a huge birthday party on campus recently and she had so much fun. She said she wants a party just as big for her birthday.
“She’s very sweet, outgoing and friendly. She greets everyone with, ‘Hey friend! How are you?!?! I haven’t seen you in a while!’
“And Lupita loves her cellphone. She’s always calling everyone she knows – everyday! She calls me, her friends in Calexico, everyone. She tells them about her day and how happy she is.
“Her mom used to cook Mexican food and Lupita helped out in the kitchen. She said her mom made a very special mole – a secret homemade sauce with chocolate served on chicken. We are planning a mole party in Crepe Myrtle now.”
For many families in Mexico, the preparation of mole is a community event, marking a celebration. Each Mexican woman has her own mole recipe, usually passed down from her mother. Preparing the sauce is often very labor intensive and can require up to 30 ingredients.
“The people of Calexico used to come to Lupita’s home and bring food; they would prepare and eat mole, and they would laugh together. Now Mountain Shadows will do this.”
“And Lupita just loves all of the activities Mountain Shadows offers,” says Shawnee. “Her favorite by far was Camp Able.”
Camp Able is an aquatic summer camp geared towards individuals and families with special needs. Mountain Shadows residents swim, canoe, sing by campfire, sail and more at this one-of-a-kind camp each year. But this year, it was especially meaningful and transformative for Lupita.
“Lupita was super excited when she saw the water. It was the first time she’s ever seen the ocean! We transferred her into the water chair and she went swimming. She was laughing like crazy and really enjoying herself. She was SO happy. I’d never seen her so happy before. It seemed to set her free. I think that seeing the beauty of the ocean, being there on the beach for the first time in her life, was a turning point for her, a new beginning.”