Dr. Jeffrey Burkhart sits casually in his living room discussing his 30 year career that encompasses teaching in four universities and two private schools. The walker next to him is the only indicator of his partial disability. A glint of pride sparkles in his eyes as he recalls a particular student’s evaluation of him at the end of a semester: Dr. Burkhart not only teaches us about French but he also teaches us that we matter.
“Unless you choose to live in a cave, you are in the ‘people business,’” he offers the oft-given admonition by his father and mother, a doctor and nurse respectively. The ‘people business’ has sustained him through four years of transitional housing. Now successfully living independently in his own apartment, he continues to seek out community with his neighbors in spite of needing to use the walker to get to them.
A retired French professor, Dr. Burkhart moved to Colorado Springs in 2007. A series of catastrophic events caused a sudden, unexpected eviction from his residence. Several days later Dr. Burkhart found himself being dropped off by cab at the doorstep of a local shelter. Because he didn’t even have enough money for cab fare, the cab driver kept his two boxes of belongings that held his only clothing, family photos and favorite books amassed throughout his career. Dr. Burkhart walked into the shelter with only the clothes on his back.
Health issues led to hospitalization, multiple surgeries and over two years in a healthcare facility. Sustained by his daily walks (utilizing his walker) along the facility corridors and visits with his resident neighbors, Dr. Burkhart sought out community inside the health care center that many people would call a nursing home. He just called it “home,” but he always knew it was temporary. The question was just how he was going to get into a position to live independently.
As one of the more independent residents, Dr. Burkhart was challenged by the facility social worker to once again enter the broader Colorado Springs community outside the comfort zone of daily corridor exercise. Walking the halls is where he met LaTesha, Community Transition Coordinator from The Independence Center (The IC). The rest is history, as they say, but it’s a history that’s still being written as Dr. Burkhart is regaining his independence through the Community Transition Services of The Independence Center.
LaTesha and the Community Transition Services team from The IC came along side Dr. Burkhart and moved him into his own apartment in July of 2015. By choice, his new apartment is just down the street from the healthcare center. He still gets his exercise going next door to walk the corridors and visit his neighbors in the healthcare center. But now instead of retiring to a small room he goes home to his comfortable first floor one-bedroom apartment.
Transitioning from life in a healthcare facility to independent living on his own is a passage that Dr. Burkhart doesn’t gloss over. Dr. Burkhart’s advice to others going through similar transitions is, “Be true to yourself and maintain the ties.” Intentionality about the ‘people business’ and Community Transitions Services provided by The Independence Center have given Dr. Burkhart a successful reentry to independent living. He’s even doing some of what he did for thirty years: giving French lessons in his apartment. He smiles and says, “It’s getting back to where I feel like I am part of society again.”