Nicole Serrano, 23, has been a Personal Service Worker for almost four years. For the past year, she has been caring for Donald Anderson of Grants Pass, a 29-year old man who sustained a life-altering illness just after birth that left him with cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. Donald lives with his mother, Tami Sears, and requires care providers to support his life and activities, depending on the level of activity required. On life-support for the past eight years, Donald is the highest-need client in an in-home care setting in the state.
While communication with Donald consists of yes and no head movements and sounds, his mother is quick to point out that he is “all in there,” — he just doesn’t have the physical capacity to execute his life the way others do.
“Each person around Donald brings different things to his life,” she says. “The union gives care providers the help they need to keep things on track, and I’m glad they now have someone fighting for them. It’s hard to juggle all the things necessary to keep Donald going. I’m so grateful that someone has their back.”
An avid extreme sports enthusiast, Donald keeps a pillow with Tony Hawk’s photo on it close by at all times. He enjoys watching a variety of extreme sports — boxing, motocross, skiing — but skateboarding holds a special place in his heart, and Hawk, a renowned skateboarder and actor, is a personal hero.
Nicole’s boyfriend happens to be the head roaster at Dutch Bros., which was sponsoring a Tony Hawk skateboarding exhibition in Grants Pass in mid-July. He was able to help Nicole not only get Donald’s pillow signed by Hawk, but after he spoke with the famous skateboarder, Hawk asked if Donald could come to the event so they could personally meet.
The outing might have been the highlight of Donald’s year. Hawk and Dutch Bros. gave Donald VIP clearance to the event of more than 2,000 spectators amid heavy security, and Hawk made greeting Donald his first priority and had security make a path for Donald’s wheelchair to the front of the event so he could see the activity without obstruction. Following the exhibitions, Dutch Bros. presented Donald with a hard-to-get skateboard especially designed for the event and previously sold out, which Hawk later autographed.
With Nicole’s help, Donald wrote this letter to Hawk later that same day:
You made my day coming out and saying hi to me! My body may be broken, but I am mentally a normal guy and dream of skating, riding dirt bikes, wrestling/boxing, fishing/hunting an so on… all of which I look forward to doing in heaven. I would just like to thank you… seeing you and the others tear it up at the park today is such an inspiration to me, I wanted to get right out there with you guys!! It was hot just watching you guys. I can’t imagine how it was for you. I hope you had at least half the great day that I had! You are an amazing athlete and I will be praying for you and will always remember how kind you were to me. I read first impressions well and am not often wrong, so may I dare to say that you are one awesome dude.
It’s arguable who was more excited about the events of that day — Donald, his mother, or his care provider, who says she was thrilled to help make this happen for Donald, whom she holds in high regard.
“This work has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Nicole says. “Donald makes me a better person, in all aspects of my life. He encourages me to focus on the best of who I am.”
In-home care through Personal Support Workers like Nicole is often the difference that can offer clients hope, dignity and a quality of life that can’t be experienced in an institution. Just ask Donald Anderson.
(Note: A very Happy Birthday to Donald, who turned 29 on Sept. 27.)