Small Changes Help a “Pauper” Become Prince Charming

Jan 01
Lisa Buckentin, Community Support Staff
Dungarvin Minnesota
Wally's Garden

May 2007 hosted the start of something that would change not only the life of a person served, but mine and all of Hutchinson, MN. A co-worker had asked if I’d like to help her and work for an In-Home client. She informed me that he was quick to anger and could become mean. I took on the challenge and was ready for the worst. Little did I know, that as I entered Wally P.’s apartment that night, I was put there by Divine design.

When I arrived, Wally was oh-so shy, swiftly rocking in his recliner. I thought he was probably thinking, “ANOTHER new staff? What’s THIS one going to be like?” My intentions were to make THIS visit with him as comfortable and fun as possible. I was going to try to make a happy man out of him and leave him with a good lasting impression of me so that I’d be invited back, if needed. Well, this one visit quicly turned into more and more visits in which I was thoroughly enjoying going there!

In the first two to three weeks, Wally and I watched a different Elvis movie every night (his love). I encouraged him to take his many health related concoctions (which he hated). I tried to persuade him to ride his incumbent bike in the corner of his bedroom for 20 minutes, which was not easy. On Tuesdays, I tried to persuade him to only play five games of pool with a small treat. In my remaining working hours, I would gently talk with him, helping him to open up and feel comfortable talking about “his” life. Lastly…I hoped that he would come to trust me. Sooner than expected, a friendship was blooming between staff and client to the extent where Wally was happily anticipating my every arrival. He even even called the PD overseeing his location at the time and asked for me everyday. What a rewarding overheard comment!

When I first started with Wally, he only drank diet pop and ate white bread with processed meats and loads of cheese. He had occasional hot dishes, which were lifeless TV dinners, but he drank no water, nor did he eat fruits or vegetables. When I first started working with him, he had locks on his refrigerator and outdated canned and boxed foods in his cupboard. In fact, there were a lot of empty containers, packages, cans, and bags which filled his refrigerator and his cupboards which I worked through to clean up. Wally lived with garbage strewn all over, and the smell of urine filling his apartment. He had an old twin bed with very worn sheets that didn’t stay on, and clean clothes that were never folded or hung, but rather “stuffed tightly” in a tall laundry basket. He was unshaven, with uncut hair, at an unhealthy weight, wearing stained, clean clothes. Wally very rarely left the house for fun or outings.

As time went on, I implemented small changes. Besides the immediate changes needed to his unhealthy and unkempt lifestyle, I knew my first mission was to work on getting Wally and his siblings (two sisters and three brothers) back in contact with each other again. They had not seen each other for over 17 years – since their mother had passed away! After a few months of research, I was able to make some contacts and lined up a surprise reunion. What a joyous day to see the love between siblings reunited!

Another wish of Wally’s was to be a member of a church. So, for six months, once each week, Wally and I met with a pastor of a local Baptist church who taught Wally about being a Christian and a church member. He had so many memories already of many Bible stories from his childhood, so spirituality came easy. When Wally concluded his training, he verbally gave his life and was baptized by full water submersion.

In this first year of supporting Wally, additional new staff came in who were trained, tried, disliked and removed from the site per Wally’s wishes. So Wally’s team and I decided that I would be his only staff. Over time, Wally achieved goals fast and was rewarded with days off from residential and day program staff.

Throughout the past seven years, Wally became more and more independent and achieved many goals. He has lost over 40 pounds by following an exercise program of walking and using Thera-bands. He loves eating his daily salads which he makes with spinach and a variety of vegetables. His refrigerator is always full of fresh fruit for snacking. Compared to when I first met Wally, he now eats almost no processed food, he loves water, he has given up coffee and caffeinated sodas (replacing them with hot and cold teas). Best of all, he also no longer takes health related medications.

Wally Making Healthy Salads

Wally Making Healthy Salads

After washing clothes now, he lays them flat on his bed and then folds or hangs them. His closet is organized with his work and good clothes stored on their own side. I brainstormed how we could make his home more fun, deciding that we could have themed decorated rooms in his apartment. Wally chose to decorate a patriotic bedroom, Packer Fan bathroom, and a rooster kitchen and front room.

In the past, Wally lacked an activity filled life. Currently, he has his own laptop containing downloaded learning programs. He now loves going to thrift and Goodwill stores where he often finds movies and CD’s for his growing entertainment collection. Wally now goes on a lot of fishing outings, and attends gatherings when he is invited from many community friends. He enjoys making wood projects with own tools, gardening, volunteering to mow grass, and keeping his bird feeders full. Last year, he entered a national magazine’s “homemade birdhouse” competition.

Wally with his bird feeder

Wally with his bird feeder

With ever increasing independence skills, Wally socializes in the community on days when doesn’t have staff. He’s made friends with a local former principal and attends High School sporting events with him. He has also been featured on the front page in the local newspaper about being challenged and living independently with great success! Staff helps Wally design a yearly Christmas card for 84 friends and businesses on his Christmas card mailing list. He is friends with all local police and fireman, known by many residents in the community, cares for his fish tank, and in his “spare time”, has occasional weekend visits with brothers. What a busy man! Wally is loved by many in his building and around town, and is known in the Hutchinson community as: “Wally, the kind and jovial man, loving life, the Packers, and Elvis.”

Wally now takes pride in his grooming and hygiene and he hasn’t had a cold or been sick in seven years due to his healthier lifestyle. His apartment is always in showroom condition. Recently, Wally received a message from his long time case worker. She praised him, saying how much he has changed from the days when he came into her office looking like an unkempt Columbo-like TV detective, to now being a such a successful and involved member of his community.

I am honored to have been chosen to bring life back into “Wally P.’s world”. A true Pauper to Prince Charming story.

Add A Comment

Required Field* Your email will not be displayed or shared.


  1. renee groehler,

    That is what it’s all about making a difference in people’s lives being there,helping caring,loving. What a beautiful story. This kind of work to me is so rewarding.God bless!