As I stare at the computer screen, a familiar voice echoes down the halls of Tobosa. I say to myself, with a smile on my face, “Domingo is here.” He is here to work, having been employed through Tobosa for the past ten years, to sweep and mop our floors, to empty our trash bins and to make the office shine. His work is done without complaint and always with a smile on his face. He takes great pride in accomplishing each task and loves to be told what a hard worker he is. I wonder? Does he know how much more he does than just clean our office? Does he have any idea the joy he brings to others with his presence and how many lives he has touched as a member of our Tobosa family? As I ask myself these questions, I begin to reminisce about the first time that I met Domingo.
It was July of 2000. I had just started working with Tobosa and one of my first assignments was at ‘the Farm.’ “‘The Farm?’” I asked, unsure of exactly what they meant. “Yes, ‘the Farm,’” I was told. “You can’t miss it,” I heard next. I arrived at ‘the Farm’ and quickly understood how it had earned its name. The two-story home where I would be working was set on an acre of land and, I would come to find out, even had grapes growing in the backyard, grapes that my soon-to-be new friend, Domingo, grew.
As I began learning more about the folks I would be working with, I was told that Domingo had many challenges including Developmental Disabilities. I learned that a Developmental Disability is a condition which causes him to have difficulty in certain areas of his life. One of the areas Domingo has difficulty with is his mobility. I would learn that Domingo shuffles his feet which makes him prone to falls. He also has some difficulty with his speech. He has difficulty pronouncing certain words which makes it difficult for him to be understood by unfamiliar listeners. Next, I was told that Domingo has difficulty learning tasks and requires a lot of reminders from those he works with to get his job done.
Domingo’s staff continued to list challenge after challenge. Neurogenic bladder, skin breakdowns, depression, asthma, heart disease. I thought to myself, how can this man even function with all of these challenges? How am I ever going to be able to work with him?
I must make a lousy poker player because the staff training me could tell I was terrified. I was assured that I would be fine, that Domingo was “easy” and that I had nothing to worry about. I was hesitant, still not sure of what I was getting into, but I decided that I had to at least give it a try.
Domingo quickly took me under his wing and taught me more in that afternoon than I could have ever imagined. He was so open and willing to share his story with me, a practical stranger in his home. Domingo took me on a tour of his home and shared the things that were most precious and important to him. He wanted me to see pictures of his Uncle Joe and the paintings that Uncle Joe had created. He wanted me to see his room and know that he had cleaned it all by himself. He wanted me to see the grapes which grew in the backyard, how he watered them and that soon they would be ready to eat. Each of these moments, filled with questions from me and proud answers from Domingo, helped me to learn about Domingo. These moments told me more about Domingo and eradicated any labels one could generate at first glance.
Domingo continued to share stories with me and one of the earliest stories that Domingo shared with me was how he learned about Tobosa and decided to join us. The story begins in 1983 as a young Domingo, still living in Las Vegas, New Mexico, decided to try his luck at Special Olympics. Domingo had always been athletic, often playing basketball with his friends after school and wanted to give Special Olympic track and field a chance. One afternoon, while competing in the Special Olympics, Domingo noticed a banner next to a group of athletes. Written on that banner was a word, a word he had never seen before but one that would change his life. Written across the banner was the word Tobosa. Domingo was curious and decided to give the banner a closer look. He asked the folks next to the banner what the words meant and they explained to him that Tobosa was in Roswell, NM. Domingo spent the rest of that day meeting others from Tobosa and learning what Tobosa was all about. He decided he wanted to be a part of Tobosa and set out to make that happen. He talked with his foster sister and she helped him learn more about the organization. She even helped him write a letter to Mr. Joe Madrid, the CEO of Tobosa, expressing his desire to join. In June, his wish became a reality and with the help of his sister, Domingo packed his belongings into her car and they drove the nearly three hours from Las Vegas to Roswell. They unloaded his things and said their tearful goodbyes. It was hard on Domingo. His family is so important to him, but he had his heart set and this was something he had to do. With that, Domingo closed one chapter of his life and began a new chapter, this time surrounded by new family members, his Tobosa family.
I didn’t realize until much later, that this would be the start of a sixteen year friendship between Domingo and I. A friendship in which I would learn so much more about Domingo through the stories he would share. So many stories, like the time Domingo made a rocking chair for his foster mother or the first time he rode in an airplane.
So many stories, stories which will be shared… in part two of Domingo’s success story.