For decades, Alice Talbot and Joyce Peterson lived in group and state homes for the disabled where other people locked the doors and did the grocery shopping.
When they moved into their own apartment for the first time, they were, at ages 63 and 74, finally given the independence they had long sought.For nine months the friends have lived in their West Jordan apartment delighting in the smallest of things: having their own key, their own telephone, choosing when they'd go to their rooms and when they'd stay up reading or sewing.
The success of their transition to independence will be awarded April 9 when the Easter Seal Society of Utah honors them with Lily awards.
But every day is a small celebration for women who didn't have many opportunities and whose own determination and good hearts have brought them to this two-bedroom apartment on Redwood Road.
Alice Talbot was born in 1923 with mild mental retardation. After her mother died when she was 12, Talbot, who is also legally blind, went to live in the state training school in Provo. She lived there for 50 years.
Joyce Peterson was born in Butterfield Canyon in 1935. She too, was diagnosed with mental retardation. She and Talbot met when they both lived in a Midvale group home.
They both belong to a program called Seniors Having Abilities, Resources and Experiences. Funded through the Easter Seal Society, SHARE provides transportation and activities for retired people with disabilities. There are eight participants, who meet at the Heritage Center in Murray every weekday. They go on tours, paint ceramics, celebrate birthdays at Salt Lake restaurants. Sometimes they sew or go on walks.
Director Maureen Gallagher said it's difficult to realize the magnitude of what independence means for the two women.
Sitting on her bed in her tidy room, Peterson says she was a bit nervous when she first moved out on her own, but mostly she was glad.
"I felt happy," she says. "I liked the group home, but I thought it would be better for me to be more independent."
The women have residential helpers who come to assist them with cleaning, bill paying and grocery shopping. But the apartment is theirs, paid for by their Social Security checks, and decorated with framed pictures of friends and family, Talbot's Special Olympics medals and a needlework of Jesus made by Peterson.
There are the photographs from the Halloween party, where Talbot dressed as a clown and Peterson won a prize for her winged angel costume. There is the ceramic heart candy dish Talbot made at the Heritage Center. And dolls made by Peterson and one of her sisters.
They have no alarm clock, Peterson said. Rather, they just wake up between 7 and 7:30 every morning to get ready for the day. On weekends, they sometimes sleep in, before heading off to church.
The women embody the goals of Easter Seals: dignity, equality and independence, said Gloria Wilkinson, the agency's development coordinator.
"The mission of Easter Seals is to assist people with disabilities to obtain maximum independence," Wilkinson said. "With these ladies, at their ages, to be going out and getting their own apartment, that signifies independence."