“I am honored and blessed to be able to share our first entry in women’s history month this year, where we are giving kudos to all the mothers and sisters of people we support, and the incredible and important impact they have made in the lives of their loved ones and in the field of disability. Our only regret is that we aren’t able to list them all!
I met Helen Whitehorse shortly after meeting her son Tracy, “Buddy” in 1981 when he moved into a 3-person apartment “pilot program” at Jay Nolan Community Services in 1981. The mother-son bond between Helen and Buddy, like most moms of the individuals we support, is incredibly strong, and she has and continues to be a strong role model for him and all his siblings. By sharing a few of the descriptors that come to mind when I think of how and what Helen has taught me about her son and herself (her grace, humility, thankfulness, familial love, faith, and strength), it only makes me realize how much I have omitted in my description of her.” (Below is a brief bio provided by Helen’s family:) – Scott Shepard, Avenues SLS
Helen Whitehorse – Women’s History Month 2021
Born on the Navajo Reservation in the 1930s, Helen was educated in the boarding school system, yet left while in grade school.
She married William Whitehorse in 1951 and together had 8 children. Two of the children, Tracy (“Buddy”) and David, were diagnosed with autism.
William moved the family to California in 1954 as part of the Indian Relocation Act, obtaining a job with North American Aviation.
Helen had to learn many urban living skills on her own, including how to budget what little income she received, in order to ensure her kids would have typical, healthy lives. Life at home was not easy, being subjected to physical and mental abuse by her husband who was an alcoholic. She had to work jobs outside of the home while making sure all of her children were safe, healthy, and in school. William abandoned the family in 1970, leaving Helen to fend for herself and her kids.
Helen sensed, early in their lives, that Buddy and David had needs beyond those of her other children, but wasn’t sure of what actions to take. After receiving a diagnosis of developmental delays and autism for each of them, she vigorously sought out information about how to obtain support for them. At this time, PL94-142 (the Free & Appropriate Education for All Act) had yet to be passed. She met Dr. Alicia Elliott (then a SpEd Teacher), who taught Buddy reading & writing skills which were essential for him to partially overcome his communication challenges. Helen taught all of her children to cook, clean, and manage for themselves as she worked to support them. This included Buddy, who had his own key to the family home as a teen and took the bus independently once he was shown where to go and where to get off. These life skills, paired with his academic education, have allowed him to thrive in adult life.
In 1981, with the help of Dr. Elliott, Helen made a difficult decision, and summoned up the courage as a mother, to allow her son, Buddy, to participate in the Jay Nolan Community Services’ first Apartment project along with 2 other young adults. Buddy was able to complete his special education and graduate from Reseda High in the early 1980’s, with a focus on horticulture.
In 1993, Buddy moved into his own place for the first time through Supported Living Services. In 2000, Helen worked with her family to transfer Buddy to Avenues SLS where he has continued to progress exponentially.
Helen is a woman of tremendous strength, warmth, grit, and strong faith in God. She’s overcome many challenges in her life and continues to thrive and support (and be supported by) her family. Her belief in the abilities of her children, ALL her children, allowed Buddy to become the man he is today.