Lucy Eddy shows compassion, love to those with developmental disabilities

The people who live at the Abbott Road house in Ithaca, New York, vary in age, in race and in their backgrounds. However, what they all have in common are intellectual, emotional or developmental disabilities serious enough that they require full-time care to fulfill their most basic needs.

They also all rely on Lucy Eddy, a direct support assistant, to care for them and to ensure they live with a sense of dignity.

“They’re her family,” says Michael Surace, who works for the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, and who nominated Eddy for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.  “She advocates for them strenuously, and sets a great example for new hires. She ensures that they all are dressed appropriately and cleaned no matter who she’s working with. She treats them like they’re her relatives.”

According to Surace, Eddy, a member of CSEA Local 449, sets the tone for other staff who work at the Abbott Road location. It’s a model based on compassion, respect, yet also firmness – a canny knack for knowing her residents and knowing how she can encourage them to accomplish small tasks.

Some of her residents cannot speak or walk. Others suffer from severe cerebral palsy or serious intellectual impairments. It’s not uncommon for Eddy to spend hours coaxing or performing elaborate rituals to put the residents – some of whom have severe OCD – at ease in an effort to get them to perform basic tasks.

For one resident, she might put on certain music to encourage him to bathe. For another, she might play a game, cheer and dance to get her to use the toilet. It can be exhausting and emotionally taxing work.

Yet, Eddy says, “I love my job. I love to make a difference, and I love to see them do the simplest thing. It’s as rewarding as any job could be.”

Eddy’s belief that all her residents deserve her utmost care, love and respect was cemented through her relationship with her husband, who has cerebral palsy, as well as a friend who had Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic disorder affecting the brain.

“They’re normal people, who wanted normal things,” recalls Eddy. “They had feelings, rights, wants and needs.”

Eddy took it upon herself to care for them – as she does today with the Abbott Road residents – to ensure all their needs are met. Her dedication and compassion has been passed down to her daughter, who also works with her.

Sometimes, Eddy can be especially outspoken in advocating for the residents, some of whom have no families. But she says she’s willing to ruffle a few feathers on behalf of the people she serves.

Still, she admits there are times when the job gets the better of her.

“I struggle. I’m not going to kid you,” says Eddy. “There are days when I ask if I made a difference in their lives. I’ll get home, and my husband will ask me about my day, and I’ll burst out crying.”  

The pandemic makes Eddy’s job even harder, and she and the staff have had to get creative to keep the residents engaged. For example, outside field trips, once an important and rejuvenating facet of daily life, have all but disappeared.

Eddy pitched the idea of making COVID-safe field trips for members for whom off-campus trips are crucial.

“I called Mike [Surace], and asked if I could take one of the residents in the van and go through the drive through at Dunkin’ Donuts,” she says. “Or we’ll go for a country ride.”

These small distractions make a huge difference in the residents’ lives. And while life has changed for the time being – with more indoor singing, dancing and crafts – one thing that remains constant is Eddy’s devotion to her clientele.