Last week, Gabriella went on a field trip with her adult program. The group has ventured out before, going to the movies (Black Panther!) and walking around the mall. This time, they spent several hours at Memorial Park in Neptune, enjoying the first summery day of the spring.

On weekday mornings, we load our daughter on the bus to her day program. We still refer to it as “school” even though she graduated in 2016, in part because the word conveys the magic of her eighteen years at Lakeview. She is always excited to go.

Enrolling her at Ladacin Network was an important step in her life. It was a big change for us as well, representing changes in experiences and routines. Gabriella goes with different nurses and she participates fully in the classroom. While her day program has less of an educational focus, they offer a range of activities including art, pet therapy, group PT and speech, and circle time. Every so often, they take a field trip.

This outing afforded the group time in the sun, complete with the sounds of summer. The park looks out onto Shark River, but it boasts a new boardwalk much like several of the Jersey Shore beaches. Unlike on our trips to Wildwood, Gabriella didn’t have access to her beach wheelchair, and they all remained on the boards rather than getting down into the sand and surf. Still, we’ll have opportunities to dampen her toes in the ocean in the coming months.

Gabriella had a great time, rarely complaining as they moved between sun and shade. Her nurse made sure she had enough sunscreen, while walking her around to keep her interested.

The trip allowed our daughter to share an afternoon with her peers. Just as with Lakeview, we (and especially Lisa) have gotten involved with the parents association at Ladacin. As an adult, Gabriella is establishing her place within a community of her own. She (and her nurses) are building their own relationships, independent of her family.

One of her program friends had a birthday on Wednesday. While Gabriella was unable to go to her group home and celebrate with her, she brought her a slice of cake with butter-cream flowers to commemorate the occasion.

Lisa and I still do almost everything with her. Next weekend, we will once again take her to the Lakeview prom, which welcomes alumni to celebrate alongside its students 15+ years old. I enjoy accompanying her, but it’s not lost on me that many other former graduates attend with nurses or aides. Even at age 23, I am hesitant to afford Gabriella that level of independence. But experiences like last week’s field trip continue to establish her as her own person, with her own community.

This is heartwarming for us, but it raises questions about the future. While I am determined that our daughter will always live with us, we know we can’t be certain. As she has her own experiences, as she establishes her own place in the community, she creates a new hope.