Service, Unity, and Human Connection

In this episode, we reflect on the past year as we wrap up season 1 and look ahead at how we can continue to be the best version of ourselves so that we can better provide for those in need. Shera Curtis, Mark Brisbane, and Kevin Towles joins Tony in reflecting upon the things they’ve been doing, challenges and issues they’re seeing in the live of people they serve on a daily basis, success stories that give us hope, and share what drives each of them to being able to be of service to others.

Tony and all of us at CIL would like to extend a big thank you to our listeners, supporters, all our guests, and the producers behind the scene that have helped to make our Season 1 such a huge success. We can’t wait to see you back here on July 5th. Until then, onward and upward!

SPEAKERS: Kevin Tolls, Mark Brisbane, Shera Curtis, Tony Delisle

Tony Delisle  00:00

Well, hello there. And welcome back to another episode of the independent life podcast. This is a very special one, we started this podcast around Thanksgiving time of 2020. We’re now in mid May, roughly six months. And this is going to be the last episode of season one, and wanted to make it an episode that really drove home. What we are doing here during the Age of COVID, in terms of how we’re operating and providing services to people that are really finding a lot of challenges during this time, and they’re needing very concrete and urgent needs met. So I’m bringing to you a couple people that you’ve met from previous episodes Shea Curtis, who’s responsible for doing a lot of food and essential resource distributions, promoting the COVID vaccination for people with disabilities. Mark Brisbane, who you’ve met on a couple episodes, who is really steeped in making sure that people with disabilities have affordable, accessible and safe housing. And a new person who we’re introducing you to is Kevin Tolls. He works out of our satellite office in Marion County in the city of Ocala, who, quite frankly, is responsible for our ability to have capacity in serving people during the COVID pandemic. From the time I came on six years ago, he was very eager to do more in the areas of disaster preparedness and emergency management, and largely through his efforts of collaboration over the last few years, put us in alignment to be in a position to where we could take on new services that has been needed to be able to be scaled up during this time. Each one of these individuals are extremely powerful, and what they’re able to do in terms of their delivery of services to people with disabilities. And in this episode, they’re going to walk through some of the things that they have been doing some of the challenges and issues that they’ve been seeing in the people that we’ve been serving, as well as some of the success stories and the glimmers of hope that are around the corner. And that we’re starting to see more illuminated towards us, hopefully light towards the end of the tunnel. And some of the most powerful things, I think what they’ve been able to share in this episode here is really what helps to fuel their fire in terms of being able to be of service to others, especially when they themselves have been challenged through the stress and anxiety of the COVID pandemic themselves. Because many people who are in the human service industry and are responsible for meeting the needs of people that are out there, it’s very tough work. And it comes at a cost. And if we’re not able to take care of ourselves, we’re not going to be able to take care of others. And they share some really important and valuable advice for those of us whether or not you’re professionally employed doing that, or just an informal way for friends and families and those that you care about. We’re all needed to be of service to others, in some extent in some role of another. And I really hope you take to heart some of the things that they share here in this episode. And before we jump in, I just want to thank all of you that have been listening, and will be listening to these episodes, and they’ve been tuning in here. I also want to thank a lot of the people that have been responsible for the production of these episodes, there’s been some really great talented people behind the scenes that have been making this possible as well. It’s been a great journey, creating this content, producing some real good value for folks. And we look forward to continuing to do this, we got really some exciting plans coming for season two, which we’re going to be launching July 5. So without further ado, we bring you some phenomenal individuals brought to you by an incredible team of people behind the scene that works. And it’s been an honor, it’s been a pleasure and look forward to continuing to bring you more of this. Hello, everyone, and welcome to a very, very, very special episode of the independent life. We are putting a wrap on season one and we’re doing it with some of the best company that I keep. It’s the folks that really are the tip of the spear for the services that we do specifically related to COVID in the in the COVID environment that we’ve been on and want to bring them to you all so that they can share with you some of the work that they’ve been doing, what they’ve been seeing in terms of some of the common issues and what they’ve been seeing in terms of some of the successes that have been out there, and any advice that they may have for those of us that are doing the hard work that is needed during these times. So I’m very happy to have Mark Brisbane, Shera Curtis who have you all have met in previous episodes, and Kevin Toll. So very special, important person in our center who’s really been steeped in emergency management for a very long time. So these people are very busy. Thank you all so much for taking the time to pull over to this side of the service road that you have been on to chat with me and for our listeners to get to know you all better, and the great work that you do. So I first want to throw this question out to you all, and maybe Shera, you could take us through this here. But if you could quickly summarize some of the work and effort that you’ve been doing related to COVID in this COVID environment as well, that you’ve been doing and kind of take us through a rough shot of what that looks like, what do you been up to?

Shera Curtis  05:53

So for one, we have been trying to maintain sustainability with the food distribution, and eliminating all of the hunger needs within our community, whether that be local in Alachua County, or in our rural areas. We’ve been doing that since What is it since May? March, April, early April? Yeah, it’s been since April, we’ve been doing it. So we’ve been consistently doing that, we found that we also have essential needs that were beyond food, that were things that were tangible, that some of our consumers needed. And we’ve also done some essential items giftings. We did one, it was the end of December, it was like Christmas time. So I think we kind of did it where it was more like a gifting to gift back for people who really had these essential needs. And then we did what again, when we found that that people were kind of getting a little more balanced with food, they did need it within pockets, but they were still having these essential items necessary. And that was within the kindergarten, secondary collegiate level. And even our just community members, they were needing some things. So we were doing that as well. What else do we do? We do a lot of stuff.

Tony Delisle  07:12

So much. So Shera, Shera. I’m gonna ask you a question here, because you’re illuminating one of the major needs when we were working with the state’s emergency operation center, Kevin, you spent some time there, when they got activated at the onset of the COVID pandemic, the number one issue area that they identified right off the bat was food insecurity, the economic impact and devastation that has had on people, especially those living at the margins was tremendous. And we’re working very closely now with feeding Florida, and our local food banks. And what I think is wonderful about what you all bring to the table is that not only have you all had to learn how to do what you are already doing pre COVID. And transferring that to a COVID environment working virtually, you all have had to create services we’ve never done before. We’ve never done food and essential resource deliveries into the community to give to people, it’s traditionally not a service that Centers for Independent Living does. And now Centers for Independent Living have had to figure a way to create and scale these services up. And it’s been a year. So what would you say, Shera, and I want you to jump in here, Kevin as well, that some of the things that you’ve learned along the way, and creating a completely new service that is needed to meet some of the concrete needs that are out there, what have you learned about creating, implementing, and sustaining a new program, such as a food and essential resource Distribution Program in the age of COVID?

Shera Curtis  08:48

Relationships are important. I think that’s one of the major things because we have to collaborate with communities, community leaders, property management, the local food banks, and then also just other community organizations. And I think it’s been so sustainable for us because of the relationships we built, because of making sure we were personable in all of our interactions. So I can say for sure, and even with the our consumers, our consumers love seeing us and making it a personal relationship because they know that we care. So that’s been I think, for me that’s been a big thing is making sure we hold faster these like really not necessarily intimate but very genuine, authentic relationships with our, with our community. And that’s been really good for me.

Tony Delisle  09:40

So relationships, authenticity, Kevin, what do you have to add here in terms of what are some of the things you’ve learned well on the way and creating, scaling up and delivering new programs?

Kevin Tolls  09:54

I definitely 100% agree with Shera is the partnership stuff right? Partnership, I had to do a lot of time management because I’m covering four counties in food distribution, giving out food and partnerships with the ones I have, and more partnerships with food banks, and everything like that.

Tony Delisle  10:19

You know, one of the things, Kevin, I think that really has been benefited us is that you, when I came on to the center roughly six years ago, you were in my ear, right off Jump Street about, we need to do more in terms of emergency management, reaching people with disabilities. And since I came on board, you really helped to scale that out. And I think one of the things that you’ve really shined in, is in this collaboration of with emergency management professionals, for example, you would sit in on what’s called emergency support function groups, ESF eights, which are county level, sometimes regional level, when we have regional healthcare coalitions where it’s groups of different emergency management’s for healthcare organizations, and other community based organizations that come together and meet, I found that that has been just a vital piece of this. And from your efforts there, it really I think, was one of the central key parts that allowed us to have a seat in the state’s Emergency Operations Center. So this is a center that gets activated when a declared state of emergency occurs. And it’s in Tallahassee, where our capital is. And so Kevin, what what inspired you ,A, first of all, to really, you know, have this on your radar, in your crosshairs as an important issue area that we need to be paying attention to, because I honestly believe that if you weren’t already gangbusters on this from the get go, that we may not be in the place that we are to have those relationships that Shera is saying that really is helped to benefit us in the scaling up of these new services.

Kevin Tolls  12:01

That’s a whole different podcast with my life. It started basically far back in 2004. Before 2004, when we had the four hurricanes, back to back in 2004, I decided, I want to help somebody, I want to help people, but didn’t know what position. And since then, I’ve been looking for the right fill or right spot what to do in my whole life. When I came on, just the nine years as an employee at CIL, I had Emergency Management under my belt, because I went to a class from class out came on with emergency management in Marion County. After that, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with the special needs registry with the state and with our county and get in partnerships with the did a lot more stuff.

Tony Delisle  12:59

So what would you say then, is some of the things that have been the barriers towards collaborating with emergency management? And what have been some of the things that have been able to help facilitate those collaborations with emergency management? So again, you know, one side of this being, you know, it’s not easy to collaborate. But on the other hand, there might be some things that make it easier, what are some of the things that are the challenges? And what are some of the things that helped to facilitate those collaborations from your perspective?

Kevin Tolls  13:27

When I approached them and tell them who I am, everybody, everybody puts up a wall. Everybody has a wall, because they don’t want to deal with people with disability up front.

Tony Delisle  13:39

Do you think that’s because perhaps there’s this stereotype that disability organizations could be in a place where they might file a complaint, or those kinds of things where perhaps they might be wearing is that perhaps why there’s…?

Kevin Tolls  13:55

Absolutely, but since I’ve been on with these ESF eight groups, in all these counties, and just reminder, also I go to the state, or I can do a local, to local ones here man in from our county. That has broken the walls and that helped us out do a lot more projects. And they got to know me, call me directly on my cell phone and all that stuff.

Tony Delisle  14:24

I think that’s, you know, something that it’s been kind of stereotypical of disability type organizations and more reaching out and trying to work in this area that I’ve certainly seen is the idea that well, you know, meeting the access and functional needs of people with disabilities during a disaster is very challenging and often Emergency Management Professionals may not have the capacity and to meet all needs, especially when say hurricane Michael hits, there’s just complete devastation. And yeah, that could be a precarious spot for some people there were, you know, if we’re not meeting some of the needs where something like that might happen. But I think you’ve done really well. And really representing Centers for Independent Living. We’re not here to file complaints, we do advocate, but we’re here to help. And we just want to be plugged in to where we can be most useful to make sure that people’s needs are met during a disaster. So what have you found that really helps? I think you were starting to scratch the surface there by talking about showing up, asking questions and being authentic, what has really helped to get over some of the those barriers of people not wanting to collaborate with us potentially, because it could be a litigious minefield?

Kevin Tolls  15:38

Me go into meetings, they got to know me, they get to know what we do what we represent, through me, and I represent the CIL in all I do, they see I go out to events, and go all the way down to West Palm Beach for our conference.

Tony Delisle  15:55

Governors Hurricane Conference, annual. Yep.

Kevin Tolls  15:58

They see that we’re out there, we’re trying to help them. And that’s what they’re seeing.

Tony Delisle  16:02

Yeah, I think you’re hitting an important point here, I think the phrase has been show me, don’t sell me, like a lot of people can sell. And it really at the end of the day, it comes to showing up and being consistent, and showing up and showing who we are and doing what we can. So I really love that you do embody this, show me don’t sell me. And speaking of which I’m going to be pulling in here, Mark Brisbane, who does show up, and he can sell to don’t get don’t, don’t kid yourself, you can sell, you know, water to a fish. So. So Mark talk to me, man, as someone who’s really, really good in terms of fostering collaborations and doing those kinds of things. And you know, again, we’re just, you’re jumping into what Shera alluded to in terms of the importance and scaling up these services, what have you found in terms of what you’ve been doing and working on, that has been really helpful in terms of facilitating those close collaborations with other agencies and organizations?

Mark Brisbane  17:05

A lot of it Tony’s just, you know, working with these folks in the community, letting them know that we’re there for him, and asking a lot of questions. I mean, what can we do, that we’re not doing? You know, what else can we do? Do you have anybody else you could refer the center to, that we can help more folks in the community, it’s kind of just branching out, just putting lines out there, you know, people have been really helpful and COVID, for the most part, I just, you got to have the that’ll turn, we’ve used the gift of gab, you got to know how to talk to people, like you’re on the front porch. You got to make them feel like, you know, it’s that kind of setting, it’s comfortable to get in there, then they open up to you know, they’re like, okay, folks are some good people, man, I want to try to help them out. So you kind of got to go in with that mindset. That, you know, look, we’re very caring people. We care about folks with disabilities and we want to help them out as best as possible. I’m, you know, that’s why me and Shera work so good together. It’s because we’re a lot alike and that that way that we just talk to people like we’re on the front porch, these organizations may just seem to just melt like a marshmallow man at a weenie roast or whatnot. But seriously, and people really, they really just seem like they get drawn into want to talk to you more, if they come up with something else, it’s beneficial. They’re really helpful, especially along in the field on the right now digging into housing, they this this whole pandemic and with these two entities here and in Alachua County, which is Alachua County housing authority and Gainesville housing authority on the wall, those those girls and those folks that work over there, like I’ve known my whole life, and it’s just connecting, that’s a big thing Tony got to be able to connect to get what you need for folks in a dire need, especially right now. So that’s kind of my input. I hope I’m not all over the place. I’m not trying to give you an example of how, to me how it works easier and better. So I can provide needs for people within the community.

Tony Delisle  19:20

Well, I definitely think you are that front porch fella that can seem to be able to shoot the breeze with just about anyone where regardless of their background, social economic status, life experience, you seem to have that Mojo, I guess, that kind of goes along with that that’s endearing to people, very authentic and get people to open up and connection. Like you were mentioning, more than ever I think people are really starting to resonate the importance of connecting with people and communication is certainly one of those tools that we can do to build good rapport. And we have more in common than we do different and etc. And you seem to really accelerate that. You started to mention a little bit about the specifics about what your niche is there and it is in housing, can you lay out for people what the issues are related to housing now, we can recognize before COVID if people don’t know already affordable housing, I gotta say before COVID, at least locally here, if not nationally, having access to affordable housing, and making sure affordable housing is accessible for people with disabilities. It’s been something that you’ve been really getting into lately. So walk us through what some of the issues are related to affordable and accessible housing and why it matters.

Mark Brisbane  20:39

Biggest issue, folks with disabilities that are trying to get housing and, they don’t necessarily have to have a disability, it could be a single mom that has a child with a disability or just very low income. One of the biggest issues is having to trying to find somewhere that they can afford that’s safe. That’s one thing, there’s many, many issues, then they run into, you know, it was three times the the income, you got to have this much money for deposits, even through the vouchers that are received through lots of county housing authority in Gainesville, they still have that issue, especially for low income people, they can’t find a safe place to live, it’s more of your your low income top apartment complexes and duplexes. And those are not safe areas. So there’s a lot that goes in that. I would like to see more places open up for people that that can gain access to a safe place to live, but also be able to afford it at the same time without stretching it thin. Yeah, the voucher program we have here fortunately, at helps some but not a lot. And it’s it’s tough, man. It’s like a needle in a haystack. When people get that voucher to find somewhere that they can live, they feel safe in. So if I dug in deep, this podcast could be about three hours discussing it. It’s a, it’s called. And it hasn’t really gotten easier since the pandemic. I’ll be at various cares at learning this out there to help people pay their rent. But that’s not anything permanent. That’s temporary. So there’s struggles for people with disabilities.

Tony Delisle  22:25

Yeah, I really think that you’re illuminating the trifecta here, right? So we got affordable, accessible, and safe housing. And how do we do that, like you were saying, like we do get housing vouchers, which can can help out with some of the money that’s needed for public housing. Huge part of independent living, right, we’re here to ensure that people with disabilities can stay in the community. So getting that voucher is critical. But I also recognize especially in the Gainesville area, where we have a major university, which is constantly building new housing for students, which seems to be very expensive and higher end, drives up the prices and other areas that aren’t new apartments or complexes or even houses. It drives up those prices too, and often leads to a lot of gentrifying of communities and neighborhoods and the people that are, you know, on the margins tend to keep getting pushed outside, you know, outside of the town and outskirts. And then, like you’re saying on top of just getting to to an affordable house, you still have other expenses first, last deposits, just the supplies that are needed to stay in a home, and all these other kind of things that are that are in there, it’s really tough. And then you started getting into Well, we now know about the eviction moratoriums, and the lifting of those kind of things that have been happening in the rush for the feds or the states to get Care’s money to offset some of those expenses that people have been incurring and other things out like that. It’s just so much going on in this area. And I hope people can really get if they’re not in on this issue area, really educated on what’s going on out there. Because when we look at the essentials, share, we got you and Kevin out there that are distributing food, water and other essential supplies, a concrete need, right we need to eat and we need to drink. But then we need to have shelter too. And it’s just amazing to me that within this COVID pandemic, how we’ve been really seeing an increase in these urgent concrete needs that people are having and how our people are just been pushed to the margins very difficult times. What do you are seeing out there Shera, in terms of the people that you’ve been serving? And I know you’re, as you’re delivering food and other essential resources to people there as well, they’re the same people that are struggling with affordable, accessible and safe housing. What are you seeing and hearing from people beyond even these kind of issues. As far as the challenges of what people are going through with disabilities that we’re serving?

Shera Curtis  25:07

I definitely have seen a lot of isolation and fear that comes along with interacting and being able to reconnect back with family, with friends. And, and I mean, those all kind of trigger mental health factors. But that’s more so what I’ve been seeing. I guess sometimes, before we interact with people, as I see them hopeless. There was a guy specifically that we had, but um, lot of them were hopeless, because they were just like, no one’s gonna see me, I’m getting old. I don’t have like, my kids are here. But a lot of the people who we do connect with, their families work in healthcare. And with them already having pre-existing conditions, it was kind of like, I don’t want to get sick from seeing my family, I don’t want to die from seeing my family. So it was kind of like I feel alone. So that was that’s been kind of like a bigger thing. And then..

Tony Delisle  26:05

So, so let me let me pause right there, hold on, hold that one thought because you are hitting on something super important. So before COVID, people with disabilities, more likely to experience loneliness, and social isolation. And those are killers, the research out there showing that loneliness can decrease four years off your lifespan, more likely to commit suicide, more likely to have diagnoses that are related to mental health disorders, etc. So when you show up in there, delivering food and other essential resources to people, and you’re picking up on this increased anxiety and loneliness that people are having, and we’re not clinicians, what is it that you’re able to do to help bring some comfort and support for people, when you come across people that are in this space?

Shera Curtis  26:54

The same thing that Mark said, just being able to really relate to them, being able to connect with them, giving them conversations, sometimes they just feel so alone, that they just are happy that someone came to see them. That’s been a lot of what we have is people just they’ve been forgotten, or they assume they’ve been forgotten. And so even with us coming and seeing them, they’re just like somebody cares. And that brings them that little glimpse of hope. And then I mean, we go from there, we try to build relationships. That’s why we try to stay sustainable more than anything, is trying to make sure we’re looping back in with the same people. So they’re not getting forgotten or not fallen through the cracks. But that’s that’s kind of the majority of what I see when we’re out there. It’s just people are people, they’re isolated, they’re alone. And we come in and bring that connection. So they don’t feel as alone. They always can call me and they do they call me if they have any questions or if they want to talk or if they want me to come and advocate. They know that they have that in this CIL.

Tony Delisle  27:58

You’re there’s really something to be said for just being present with somebody. Present in the yes, physical space and being there but also in terms of our attention. Distant having someone there that is this there does present with them people’s presence, I’m starting to see is something that’s just very valuable. Shera, if you don’t mind. Can you talk a little bit about, I’m very aware of the support that you’re giving to a gentleman out there that you know, is in high need, I think you might know who I’m talking about. I don’t want to tell the details. I want to share that for you. So if you can just talk a little bit about, you know, how you came across this individual, what they were facing and what you’ve been able to bring into their life.

Shera Curtis  28:46

So nameless, our recent consumer who I guess he was referred to me, I can’t remember how specifically but I think it was referred to me by another colleague, regarding just a need for food or need for some type of connection. We went out there first week, we called and we did an assessment. And we found out that he had I think when we first went out there 60 days to live. So his life expectancy was no time. He is in hospice care. So we…

Tony Delisle  29:24

What was the situation he was in when you came across him?

Shera Curtis  29:29

He had, he had all of those. So this is why I say relationships are important because he had hospice. He had these resources with hospice. He was supposed to have a case manager, he was supposed to have nurses and I’m using supposed to have all these things. Outpatient hospice, he was refused, he was more so interested in being home in his comfort space. He felt like that would, was going and checking into an actual facility would would limit his time to be free to kind of just live. So he wanted to be independent, but do outpatient. So he was supposed to have all of these connections, and he did. But there was no services being provided there was no support for him. It was very seldom, he had no food, he already has a restriction on his diet because of his existing issues. So when we came out there, it literally was like we donated some food to him. We offered him some services, he needed some hygiene products, he needed, just basic necessities. And then not only did we provide his immediate needs, but we were able to connect him with his case manager to make sure there were consistent follow ups where his nurse that was supposed to be there every other day, or every day, wasn’t showing up. So by the time we finished our first session, I think his nurse came the next day or the same day, his case manager spoke with him and was trying to set him up to get some food assistance. We literally got him to do Meals on Wheels, so he now has Meals on Wheels that comes. I think they come just about everyday now. So he now has not just the support of this CIL, but he has the support of everyone else who was supposed to be there in those roles, really doing their job to make sure that you’re making a difference. But he was one of the cases what we had was what I would say home, hopeless. And he said that he was super transparent about his condition. He was ready to die. He was kind of in a place where there was no one that cared. His friends didn’t know about it, his nurses weren’t coming to see him, he felt like his health was so, it was declining so quickly. And no one no one was there. But he was he It was like an illumination. When we came out to see him. We sat down and we talked to him. He said no one has sat down and just talked with him and talked about his needs. We definitely took up space with him. And it was it was nice, it was nice to just be able to be there for someone. I think that’s why I love this job. When I can have those moments where people just feel loved and appreciated. And seen. Especially in these times and and now he told me because he calls me just about every day, to be honest. But he tells me all his good news, when he got his food stamps, he he told me about that. And he told me, not only did he get the food stamps, because they weren’t giving him a certain amount, I think they were giving him like 90 something dollars a month, he called me and told me not only are they giving him food stamps, but they’re giving him almost $100 more than what they were promising him. And he’s gonna be getting them every month until next year. He’s super excited about that. And then he also has someone who’s coming to bring him food when he can’t cook or when he’s down. His nurses are checking on him. He actually just called me the other day, he got into a nursing home, because we talked about him transitioning and being able to understand and accept what his independent life was going to be like. And he was very resistant to going into a nursing home before but now he’s open to that because he said it’s more safe for him. And he understands how important it is for him to kind of support the people who are supporting him and his process of healing or his or his journey at the end of life. So it’s been a good, it’s been a good little journey with him. He is, he is excited about everything. He’s excited about his little benchmarks that he’s making. And he literally he, he sees us as an advocate. Every time he wants to have a meeting with his nurses or his case managers. He wants me there. Without hesitation. He’s just like, we’ll schedule this there. But I need you to know if you can make it because I don’t want to do the meeting if you’re not there. When he told me he had the assisted living facility, the nursing home, he was just like he wanted me to go check it out before he went over there. Because he trusted my judgment to know that I would make sure I would make the best decision for him or whatever. And of course I can’t do everything but it’s just been the fact that he knows that someone cares and he can call me and I can be on the other line and just be like okay, we got it or we’ll work towards this. And it’s been really good. It’s been it’s been a very beautiful process.

Tony Delisle  35:01

Thank you for sharing that. I definitely have been aware of you supporting this gentleman here and very tough your situation that imagine living at the final days, given a couple months to live, and not having family, friends, being completely alone and not having the essentials, food, and other resources and the services that you’re owed. And it sounds like you did a lot of advocacy to make sure that it has those. And it might sound odd to some of our listeners that we’re promoting community living. And here we are now getting someone into a nursing home or assisted living facility to live out their last days. But to do it, I think like, again, there’s there’s a need and necessity for these facilities, especially at the end of life so that people can live out the remaining days in comfort, and making sure that they do have those supports and services as needed. And though these are often tough decisions that people need to make, but we got to be respectful of the decisions that people are making out there and their informed choices, and you helping to ensure that he’s making those informed choices is key. So Kevin, let me hand this back over to you and talk to you a little bit about some of the unique things that you’re up to. So at the end of May, here, we’re going to be looking at doing an event that you’ve been doing for for a little while, it’s like our fourth annual Emergency Management Expo, where in the past, we’ve had people with disabilities that we invite to come out and participate, where they can hear from other emergency management professionals and first responders and people that are in health care about certain topics and issues and to get linked up with people in the community that does services gather community based organizations that are there to offer their resources, and etc. So this year is a much different year with the age of COVID and everything else. So I know the planning for that looks a little different, but I am well aware of what you’ve been up to and all the precautions that you are taking for this event and etc. But the theme this year, talk to us about the theme for the event and why you chose this particular theme regarding Emergency Management disaster preparedness.

Kevin Tolls  37:23

Well, I’m going back to last year, I think you remember, the actual date was March 11 of last year, from last year, two days later, on the 13th the governor shut down the state of Florida. Yep, that’s how..

Tony Delisle  37:40

Friday the 13th I remember it well.

Kevin Tolls  37:42

That’s how it was periodically. So the planning committee got together. And we all talked about it back in September when we first started for the theme for this year. And the planning committee with mental health is a big issue. So that’s why we listed this year as mental health, across the board in emergencies and all that stuff. Mental health is a big issue during an emergency. If a hurricane comes through, it’s wrong. You got mental health, there’s people in panic, there’s across the board, panic, where am I going to live? Where are they going to stay? How am I going to feed my family? How am I going to do everything and basically mental health they are we have seen a rise in homes, people being innovative people have been in domestic violence across the board there’s a lot of things for mental health. This year we decided the theme this year’s mental health and we do have some great speakers coming to talk to us.

Tony Delisle  38:55

Fantastic, so Mark over to you what would you yourself is someone who’s a quad and is done the what’s needed to be done keeping yourself and your family safe and being isolated yet still working remotely and doing all the magic that you’re doing in terms of housing and everything else like that. I’m gonna do a check in with you. How would you explain the journey that you’ve been on your family even in terms of navigating the challenges that people are going through in terms of being a person with a disability and mental health and stress and anxiety? How is it been for you?

Mark Brisbane  39:32

The best way I can put a Tony is you already isolated was for me with my disability with a quadriplegic, a wheelchair user, you’re already isolated to an extent but you could before you know pre-COVID you could go you know go into the office seeing all my co workers and and go out to dinner, go do normal things. Now it’s been it’s two times so now It’s been for over a year, or looking at maybe 14 months of being really restricted to not going hardly anywhere. And so it’s been, it’s been tough, I won’t lie it, it wears on you. But you know, me personally, I have children, which, you know, I have twins and a little boy so that that kind of keeps my head above water. And, but I know there’s other spinal cord injury people I’ve spoken to I have buddies that are, you know, it’s, it’s really it’s broken them down that they’ve not you know been able to have that that outlet, that social interaction with people. So it’s had a huge effect. And, and again, I’ll circle back to me, you know me, I’m mister mister social. I enjoy talking to people and hanging out I have my whole life and it’s really been restricted. So yeah, it’s it’s kind of been a… You know, it kind of just shock. An adjustment. That’s, that’s the word I’m looking for. So I’ve tried to look at it, like taking it one day at a time. Because I know, I know, it’ll will affect my health, physically and mentally if I let it, you know, bear down on me. But some have access to people, like, you know, I could call coworkers, I can call friends, family. But some people don’t have that. And I get irlen syndrome on a lot. What are they doing, you know, to sustain themselves through this, this period right now. It’s very concerning. So that’s why I’m I’m edgy about Let’s hurry up and get get past you know, this, this point and getting these blue skies.

Tony Delisle  41:49

So Shera, I’m, uh, continue this conversation and thread with you. So what have you been doing to help ensure that your mental health, emotional well being is protected during these times you yourself, have a family, have a lot going on in your world as well. And have challenged in some ways as we all have been, what are some of the things that you are doing to ensure that you You are very strong mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, whatever it may be? What do you what are you doing to fill your cup?

Shera Curtis  42:28

Oh, well, that’s a lot of things. Um, I now have done like, a mental health day, at least once a month, where I take off and I focus on being well. I do spa days. So and I’m expecting, of course, so I have to make sure my physical is taken care of, and it just kind of just so I can kind of be refreshed, I guess that’s more of what my my self care days are being refreshed. But I do something that I want to do that focuses on me, because our job and Human Services is about giving back so much, and focusing on other people. And sometimes we forget about ourselves. So I, I take time to just focus on me for that day. I stay connected with people, I definitely lean on my, my friends and family heavily with conversation. Even if I can’t see them all the time, I always make sure I’m checking in or seeing how everybody else is doing. And I had this conversation with one of our colleagues today. It’s more so I just understand that I can’t take everything on. And I can’t worry about things that I can’t change. It’s kind of like the Serenity Prayer. Except that things you can’t change. And learn how to move past that. And worrying, my mom always tells me worrying doesn’t do anything for you. So try not to worry. But just stay connected with people. I think that’s a big thing. I’m an extrovert to the extreme. So me staying connected with people and you know, being around my kids and family and getting hugs when I can and it helps when I go out to like, like when I go see our community members. They refill me too. I love it when I have like big outreach days, just seeing people who sometimes are worse off than you and that gives you hope to say you know, it could be worse. It could be worse, but be thankful.

Tony Delisle  44:32

Well, I think you bring in a bunch of tools there people can use divided into what we have control over. And what we don’t have control over. Serenity Prayer is a great way to break that went out there. Big time. Connection, like you’re saying, we all need connection and making sure you’re you’re reaching out to people and getting those hugs wherever you can. And then yes, serving others and there’s always someone in a situation that’s more challenging and dire than then the ones we’re in, and it’s all relative. So I think understanding that is, is a big part too. And then on top of that, did not just understand that that other people might be in a situation that is more challenging, but also to be of service to them as well. And in the only way that we can really be of service to them is to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves. That’s kind of how you open this. And it really made me think of, you know, have the advice we’re given when we fly on airplanes, right? You got to put the oxygen mask on yourself so that you have the energy and capacity to help put it on to other people. So I think dividing up to what we have control over, what we don’t have control over reaching out and connecting with people. Realizing that, you know, yeah, well we are going through is challenging. But you know, there’s other people out there that are able to do things with less and facing more challenges out there and to be of service. Wow, what a recipe right there. So I find that to be super valuable. Kevin, talk to me, what have you seen in terms of what you’ve been able to do and provide to others? Like, what value Have you seen in the work that you’ve been doing with people that you feel like has been really something that’s been able to help lift them up? Do you have any specific stories or examples of how, perhaps when when you’ve been out there connecting with people and reaching out to people, that has been able to lift them up during these times?

Kevin Tolls  46:29

Basically, when they watch a wall, some of my consumers that I dealt with, they just want to talk. And I’m just there to give them some food, and this is how I know I’m on a delivery schedule, but all they want to do is just talk, he wants somebody to listen them. Everyone can understand. Mark can understand. So can you Tony, the older population, they’re isolated. They don’t, their family so almost left them. They don’t… They want to talk to somebody. And that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to hear them. And that’s that aspect. And they’re happy to be getting food. And that’s all that’s going to cost me is my time. Trust me, that’s all on them and helping me out.

Tony Delisle  47:30

Yeah, I think you’re hitting on something here that we we’ve been circling around here is this the the power of being present with people, being a good ear to bend. And just that alone is super valuable, let alone delivering food and other essential resources, and all these other things is just invaluable. It really is. And I think more than ever, hopefully, people are really getting that, the importance of connection, it ties back to unity, we’ve been trying to really pull on that thread through this show is that we really need to be united and disability offers that platform to be able to do that, especially when we’re out there meeting needs and connecting with people. So Mark, I’m going to get in on a very important hot topic that you know, we’re in May now and since December when the COVID vaccinations got emergency approval. It’s been initially was a race to get it out there and available to people. But certainly access to it has been a big thing, as well. I was wondering, there’s a lot of different camps. Obviously, people are well aware, some people are very eager to get the vaccination. Some people are hesitant, and some people are resistant. You know, Mark, if you had to, you know, talk to people about where you’re at with regards to your thoughts about the vaccination, people with disabilities, and people that don’t have disabilities. You know, what are some of your thoughts that are circulating as a lot of this is going on in our culture right now in terms of reconciling vaccinations and COVID?

Mark Brisbane  49:33

I’ve had discussions already with a few people that do have disabilities, and some family members that that seem to be kind of reluctant to get it but I’m, I’m like, if you you don’t know what COVID will do to you. You don’t know what COVID will do to you. If you contract it. It’s it has a wide range of how it affects people. Me personally out of the van explanation because me, I don’t want to risk myself and I don’t risk my family or somebody else. To me, it’s, I feel like it’s just safer to get it, I tell people, I’m like, they wouldn’t put these out on the market, if they didn’t feel like they were safe, and they were going to be effective. And I’m just all about getting it because with the disability, the odds of it affecting you, in a really bad way, very violently sick or possibly death. I’m not going to take that, I don’t, I don’t want to take that chance. But I try to approach it in a positive manner. I don’t approach it from a political side, I just look at it as being proactive, you know, and some, I use the fact that they have grandparents or they got elderly folks that are in their family, that type of thing. You got to think about the people around you, is what I say, not just yourself, but just think about the folks around you.

Tony Delisle  50:59

Isn’t that a refreshing perspective to have not just be centered on ourselves, but for the greater good, and that’s big time. So Shera, I know you’ve dove into work, particularly with promoting the vaccine, ensuring that it is accessible for people with disabilities. So you went through a process where you lead some of our staff to call, just straight up call people who we serve, that we know about, have their contact information, and calling individually to people to say, hey, do you want the vaccination? If so, are you having any issues when in terms of acquiring it? If so, how can we ensure that you get it and you overcome those barriers, and I know you’ve directed people to homebound vaccination programs that are out there that gets around a lot of accessible issues. I know you’ve delivered information and referrals to people that have the independence to go get the vaccination and may just not be aware of what it is out there. What have you learned going through that whole system for where basically you and the staff were a call center, are a call center? Kevin’s getting into this in terms of when you were calling people? What were some of your takeaways and lessons that you learned in communicating with people with disabilities in regards to their interests in the COVID vaccination? If they did want it, what were some of the challenges and issues that they were running across? If they didn’t want it, what were some of the reasons that they didn’t want to get it so a lot there to unpack, but take it from here.

Shera Curtis  52:33

The things I can say, is because of the relationships people have with us at CIL, they trust us, they were looking for us to give them guidance. There are of course, a lot of barriers with healthcare, and minorities, them sometimes knowing that I was a minority, they would ask for my opinion. And it would be like me, sometimes falling back from my opinion. And giving them enough of the resources and information to draw their own conclusions was how I had to kind of steer some of the conversations. It was unsurity, it was a lot of you know, we’re all navigating through this. And I will do that for some other people just saying, Hey, I don’t know. And being okay with I don’t know, but saying let me give you some resources, or let me give you some places where you can be connected. So you at least know or talk to your doctor about this. And like we would have sometimes the conversations would be pretty long, because people have very adamant questions about like they have some real questions about these, these vaccines. And it was more so let’s try to figure this out together. So we definitely went through like a series of just building trust, providing information and access, providing very user-friendly information as well. Because a lot of them, I mean, they were older, they weren’t going to read through packets and all of that stuff. So it was us just even sometimes just reading them some information or referring them to someone who could speak with them. So it was a lot of navigating, honestly, it was a lot of navigating about the vaccines. And then once we were some people were very sure, because they had family members who had either passed away so they had some very close life experiences. Or they knew a friend of a friend who had been sick and they were just like I couldn’t be sick like that. There were there were so many variations, but honestly, it was just more so I did find that a lot of people trusted our judgment on what they should do with doing the vaccine. And that was that was I mean I guess that was really good to know that people value, the CIL and value what we bring to the table. And that comes with integrity as well. So there must have been something where it was like we’ve been consistent across the board. So that was good to know, and that was just it, it was an intensive process because some people were like, absolutely no, some people were like, yes, some people like I, we can follow up and get some information. So when you’re calling hundreds of people, and you have to follow back up, and you have to see where they are with their information, it is a waiting game. And it is a process. But I think it was good because at the end of it, a lot of people were vaccinated from the process, either they went to their doctors, and their healthcare providers, or they were on our homebound vaccine list. And we’re able to get the resources they needed. So it was it was a it’s been a good process. It’s been a very good process. And we’ve connected with the Gainesville Fire and Rescue and they have been awesome. They really have, they’ve been super, like accessible for us. Anytime we have questions about anything, if they don’t know, there’ll be like, I’m getting back with you. And they really do get back with us. Even if we’re dropping off lists, they’re accessible or they come pick up the lists. Like it’s been a pretty fluid process. Honestly, we did have some bumps along the road earlier. But everything has been is ironed out. Honestly.

Tony Delisle  56:11

Yeah, we’re in an interesting phase right now again, we’re in May. So the availability is much more prevalent than it was on the onset. Some of the issues in regards to barriers to access of the vaccine, even when it’s available, are being more and more mitigated each and every day. At the same time, we seem to be also having higher hanging fruit that still needs the vaccination, wants the vaccination. And I think we’re entering into a new phase where other strategies are needed to get people that might be hesitant or resistant or kind of marginalized people to think about getting the vaccination. And, Kevin, you’ve been leading a couple efforts in this regard yourself regarding trying to reach a special community of people with disabilities and different ways and means that you’re able to do that as well. And you didn’t know if you wanted to talk about what you got cooking?

Kevin Tolls  57:04

We are partnering up with two of our County Department of Health in our southern counties. And we’re trying to, we’re going to be doing a video for Deaf community or the people who are homebound and try get the word out that way with one of our, couple, one staff members at CIL and one of our interpreters. We’re trying to reach out to the deaf community because they are, they need it more also, we don’t want to leave them out of the loop.

Tony Delisle  57:41

I think that’s huge. So two parts there, you’re working with to county health departments, largely rural area. So again, reaching rural can be very difficult and hard to do. And on top of that you’re really going for a subset of a group of people with disabilities and that’s our Deaf community. As we listeners likely know, we provide sign language interpreting services for people who are deaf, and the majority of those are in healthcare, clinical settings. And the extent to which sign language interpreters are available for people when they go get the COVID vaccination is spotty. From what I understand there could be some reluctance among the deaf community about going out and getting it and having reach into that community to say, Are you all having issues access, etc. and offering those sign language interpreters that we do have to be able to be available for people to get the vaccination if they so choose to get it? I think it’s a really great thing. And I think you’re scheming on also doing like a virtual town hall with our Deaf community to where we have the ability for them to ask some questions, have an expert there to be able to field some of those questions, comments and concerns. And then the capacity for us to be able to, we’re an approved, you know site if we so find the need the people to come to our offices to receive the vaccination and have a fully accessible vaccination site for all people with disabilities, for especially people who are deaf and needing people to communicate health related information to them, and the language that they understand is critical. So I really admire how you’ve really dove into reaching rural and reaching our Deaf community there, so very important. So I’m going to I’m going to kind of round us out here in closing and circle around with everybody in terms of, I think in a very important question for all of us that are in the human service industry during the times of COVID. As you all highlighted in our discussion here, you are working with people that are going through significant challenges, very stressful conditions. You all are very big hearted, caring people, very empathetic to others and you’re exposing yourself to you know a lot of situations that quite frankly, you bring this home with you, you take this on. So what advice do you all have for those that are in service to others, whether they’re people with disabilities, or whatever help the human services field that people might be in, to ensure that the people that are doing this good work and stay resilient, so that we can stay fit for duty. And then the duty that we have is a tall order. So, Mark, I’ll start with you this time, you know, what advice do you have to either your colleagues or those people that you don’t know that are out there trying to make a difference and impact in the world, but particularly are people that care about people, and it’s hard not to bring a lot of this stuff home? What advice you have for those of us that are out there doing the good work that you all are doing?

Mark Brisbane  1:00:47

It’s kind of, I’m gonna, I’m gonna pull from one of my most favorite quotes. To me, I reflect on it like this, and hopefully others remember this, or they’ll keep it in mind is Happy is the man or woman that’s content with what they have in these trying times. So I focus on that a lot. Now, I didn’t come up with that quota. I took it from an old pastor most people know him. Billy Graham, and that bodes well, it’s true. So I try to try to be happy and contented with what I have. And especially during this this difficult time, and, I would tell anybody that would reach out to me and they’re struggling, I’ve told him it. I’m not going to tell you, it’s easy. But the advice I would give would be that Tony, just stay focused on what, what keeps you happy and be content with it, because it sure can’t get no worse, I made a couple people laugh down in the dumps. So I’m like, Hey, you don’t need rock bottom, you got nowhere else to go but up.

Tony Delisle  1:01:56

Some of us are looking up at rock bottom. 

Mark Brisbane  1:01:58

And I’m telling you, man, it’s just reach out to people, if you like, we’re fortunate. Me personally, and I’m being honest, I have tremendous family and I have great and tremendous co workers that are like family, but I don’t know how to use for other people out there. Hopefully they have that same, give that same benefit to them. But reach out don’t, don’t shut down. Don’t you know, you start feeling like you know, the walls are closing and reach out to somebody. Even if it’s you got to be on zoom, or whatnot or outside playing, you know, catching a softball or a baseball, you’re separated something man just get out go fish and do something. That’s me, Tony. I feel like these walls are closed a little bit, I’ll get outside and play with my kids.

Tony Delisle  1:02:51

So I think what you’re saying there is valuable from what I’m hearing, you’re kind of comes to this old adage, where you know, if you, you’re happy with what you have then stop wanting, say more. So for example, it’s been said that, you know, poverty is always wanting more. And so you can have all the materialism and the money. But if you’re always in this more and more and more kind of thing, you’re really kind of impoverished where some people with limited means can be very grateful for what they have. And I think that’s a really good antidote. The gratitude can be an antidote for this trap of always looking and wanting more and finding, perhaps value and meaning externally, from the things that are outside of ourselves. So I think that’s a very powerful one there. Kevin, do you have anything that you would want to say to people that are in a similar situation that you’re in doing very hard, very difficult work, connecting continually with people that are that are struggling? What do you say to those that are in the service industry to keep their tankful as they do this work?

Kevin Tolls  1:03:57

For me what I do once a month I get, I have my own peer support group. I have a peer support group and we can make them, once a month or go out to dinner or just hand out and that’s what we do we just talk we just talk whatever plus on the, for, refresh myself, I do sports on the weekends. I help, I help them young men and ladies in sports helping them in that aspect and good play.

Tony Delisle  1:04:43

Well I’m I’m really glad to hear that you got a support system there that you can turn to and lean on and I think a real important theme of the discussion that we’re having with you is connection and unity and making sure that we have that and Oh goodness gracious how a great sport is to get out of our hands. And to work with others. And there’s such a many metaphors that we can be using for physical activity and sport and life and all those other wonderful things. Shera, what do you have to say to folks that are doing the great work that you’re doing that at times, may, may need to be lifted up?

Shera Curtis  1:05:19

Don’t forget why you’re doing it. The Why is always important. It’s hard now. But don’t forget to why. I’m always with, especially with our new hires always get back to when something seems complicated, or when something seems like it’s just like, we’re at a brick wall. I’m just like, Don’t forget the mission. Don’t forget the vision. And that kind of brings us back in. So any of us fellow CIL members out there, or anybody doing the hard work, anybody doing the great work? It is it’s a sacrifice, but don’t be weary in doing well.

Tony Delisle  1:05:59

Why do you do what you do Shera/

Shera Curtis  1:06:03

That’s my purpose. I’m supposed to connect with people. I am, I love helping people I grew up my mom is a missionary. So she grew up, we always were serving, I grew up sort of in. And it’s where my heart is full. Honestly, it’s where I can I feel like there’s more to life than just living. It’s just living for other people too, and serving them. So I love, I love it.

Tony Delisle  1:06:30

Why do you do what you do Mark?

Shera Curtis  1:06:33

Man, just give it back. I’ve been so blessed to be where I’m at, at this point in my life, Tony, it’s rewarding to give back to others just to see and hear their voice, you know, when they’ve, it’s like a pinnacle man. Like, I didn’t see this happening. And I didn’t see it coming but made it happen. And that really just, you know, for me? Yeah, it’s, it’s better than anything else. So

Tony Delisle  1:07:07

Why do you do what you do, Kevin?

Kevin Tolls  1:07:10

Same thing. I mean, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help people out.

Tony Delisle  1:07:16

I agree, Kevin, I really, from my own point of view, I do believe the why, the meaning of life often is to be of service to others. And even from an evolutionary perspective, even beyond the spiritual or, you know, meaningful or fulfilling perspective that, you know, I don’t feel like humans would have survived as much as we have if we didn’t come together. And to help one another. I think intelligence by itself and alone, wouldn’t have gotten us to where we are today in terms of evolution. So we do need each other, we need to be of service to each other, we need to get outside of our own heads. Learn to be selfless. And at the same time, like Jarrod alluded to, we do need to take care of ourselves so we can be fit for duty. And I want to acknowledge all three of you for the tremendous work that you do. You know, it’s obvious from this conversation that you’re your heart, your head, your hands, the hard head, hands, right, we need all three of those things to be of service are in great alignment. It’s a privilege, it’s an honor, to work with you all to see what you do on a day in and day out basis for others. It’s truly inspiring for me, it fills my bucket for sure. And just I think it’s wonderful to know that there’s people out there that care about us, whether we know them or not, that love, our hearts are bigger than any of the challenges and issues and other forces out there. That can be very challenging, and often work to bring us down, that unity and the why of what we’re coming here to be all about is, is the purpose of our existence brings a lot of fulfillment, unity through disability. So I want to acknowledge all three of you. And certainly all the other staff that work here at our center, throughout the Independent Living network in the state, our kindred spirits to you all, certainly share some of the exact reasons why you do what you what you do, and are just phenomenal people that, quite frankly, is the beacon of light and hope that’s certainly been carrying me through a lot of this as well. And so I just want to thank you all for being who you are. In this time that we’re living in. We need more of this. We need more Sheras, need more Marks. We need more Kevins, more of the people that are out there doing this good work. So thanks for taking the time out of your very busy schedules to check in with us. Really appreciate it. No problem. Glad to be here. 

Mark Brisbane  1:09:54

Yeah, this was awesome. 

Kevin Tolls  1:09:56


Tony Delisle  1:09:57

All right. All right. All right. All right. Well, We know the sign off here. So, till next time, onward and upward.

Amy Feutz  1:10:10

Thanks for listening to the independent life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at or call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life.