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Client Spotlight: Cliff and Joe

Posted on : 19 Apr 2023 | No Comments

Joe C. has been a part of the KANDU family “a long time” (since May 1999, to be exact), working in prevocational services and participating in Aktion Club. Aktion Club is an organization that provides opportunities for people with disabilities to build leadership and teamwork skills and participate in community service activities. Aktion Club is important to Joe; he feels proud that he can give back and help others.

“Joe is a very caring person. He’s a helper,” said Allie Tolson, KANDU client services manager, noting that you’ll often see Joe helping other clients during breaks and lunches. Joe is a comforting presence to new KANDU clients, giving the advice, “Don’t be nervous. We are all friends. Congratulations, welcome here.” His warm heart has him always looking out for his peers, especially his long-time best friend Cliff, who works in prevocational services and participates in Aktion Club with Joe.

Joe often assists Cliff with taking notes home and facilitates communications between Cliff and KANDU staff. “Joe and Cliff have lived together for years and the bond they have formed in that time allows them to communicate in a unique way, especially when Cliff is non-verbal,” said Client Services Director Julie Smith. Allie Tolson said, “Cliff doesn’t always talk, but Joe can still understand him and his needs. If Cliff is acting unusual, Joe can sense it and will ask if he’s okay or if there’s anything Cliff needs.” One of Cliff’s main goals is to increase verbal and non-verbal communication with KANDU staff and fellow clients at work, and Joe often can bridge the gap if there is a misunderstanding.

Joe’s mom estimates that he and Cliff have lived together for over ten years, with Joe taking on the role of Cliff’s protector. Andrea Bergman, Cliff & Joe’s caregiver, says that Joe provides the stability and familiarity in everyday life that Cliff needs. Andrea has known Joe and Cliff since 2017, when they requested to be placed together in a home and she had two rooms open. Since they moved in, Andrea notes that they do most things together, and Joe’s family treats Cliff like family. “Joe and Cliff have a really special friendship. Every day Joe asks Cliff, ‘How are you today, Cliff?,’ and no matter how Cliff responds, Joe will always reply ‘I love him.’,” said Andrea.

While Joe is a kind soul, he does enjoy a little mischief. When asked about his favorite KANDU memory, he quickly brings up a client Fun Day from the previous summer, when clients got to throw water balloons at staff members, and even dunk Executive Director Kathy Hansen in a dunk tank. And Cliff is a prankster, too. According to Heather Braumann, senior client services manager, “Cliff likes to play jokes on everyone, but especially Joe.” But when it comes to work, both Joe and Cliff know how to focus on the job at hand.

“Joe’s a hard worker, and he’s a funny guy,” said Dewight Williams, a member of KANDU production staff who works with clients in prevocational services, “He works hard on every project.” One of Joe’s proudest accomplishments is his ability to stay on task and complete his work quickly. He fondly remembers one of his favorite projects, where he got to build promotional boxes full of Milwaukee Bucks merchandise and swag for the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation, a job Cliff worked on as well. “Cliff is a dedicated worker and excels at any project he’s given,” said Dewight. Admittedly, Cliff’s favorite part of coming to KANDU every day is “working,” followed closely by “break time and lunch.”

At lunch, while Joe is often helping other clients, Cliff likes to kick back with his beverage of choice, a classic Coca-Cola. The fact that he enjoys an ice-cold Coke doesn’t stop him from monitoring how much soda Joe is drinking, and Cliff is happy to let KANDU staff know if he thinks Joe is drinking too much pop. “It’s a unique friendship, they are really like brothers,” said Allie.

Many of us find our forever friends at work and Joe and Cliff are certainly an example of how a work relationship can lead to a lifelong caring friendship, especially for those people who have a natural ability to be thoughtful and caring about the needs of others.  Cliff and Joe are the epitome of what KANDU stands for – compassion, loyalty, and kindness – and we are proud to call them OUR friends.