Gregory & Carlton: Growing every day

Theirs is a friendship that goes back to childhood. Together, they survived living in D.C.’s Forest Haven Asylum — which closed in 1991 after years of alleged abuse, medical incompetence, and several deaths.

Carl “Gregory” Everett and Carlton Washington met at Forest Haven when they were just eight years old. Both are blind and have intellectual disabilities. While they aren’t related by blood, the two men are known by family and friends as “the twins.” In their mid-sixties, they are the same height, but Carlton is a little heavier. Gregory holds onto Carlton’s shoulders to steady himself when he walks.

They live together in a Ft. Totten apartment that is part of supportive housing provided by the Department of Disability Services which allows them to live in the community but does not provide any services or programming during the day.

Gregory has a photographic memory and can recite dates with remarkable recollection. Both are passionate about music. That’s why Gregory’s sister, Karen Everett-Bivins, enrolled them in an arts-oriented day program in Northeast Washington a few years ago.

But one day, when Karen made an unexpected visit, she found them alone in a corner with only a simple toy to engage them. “It was heartbreaking,” she says. They never went back. Instead, for more than a year “the twins” have been attending Iona’s Wellness & Arts Center five days a week. Or, as Gregory says: “since October 29, 2015.”

At Iona, “everyone is happy,” he says. “We do so many different things. We do art. We paint.”

When they arrived at Iona, Carlton didn’t speak. “Something must have happened, or someone in the past told him not to speak; Gregory has always been his voice,” says Karen.

But in the past year, in the safety and warmth of Iona, Carlton found his voice. It started with a whispered word or two. But now, in the company of people he’s comfortable with – such as the Wellness & Arts Center staff – his thoughts pour out in sentences. While talking about the Bureau of Engraving and Printing one day, Carlton told Karen: “That’s where they make money.”

Gregory is blossoming at Iona as well. He recently won a game of “Name That Tune” – not surprising, given his memory. (The winning answer: the Beach Boys.) Another day, he told his sister that a visitor came to the Center and “played the guitar just like Elvis.”

“I didn’t even know he knew about Elvis,” she says. And she had no idea he is interested in history. Yet, one day when he came home from the Center, he told her: “Martin Luther King had a dream. He said, ‘free at last, free at last.’ ”

“A whole world is opening up for them,” adds Karen. Carlton likes to mold shapes with dough, make ceramics, and bake. Gregory likes participating in conversations about current events and history discussions on topics researched by the Iona staff. At the Center, they also got to pet visiting dogs, cats, and birds — for the first time ever.

After holding a puppy, Carlton exclaimed to Karen, “They have hair all over their bodies!” “There are so many things we take for granted,” adds Karen. “Iona has provided them new experiences and new opportunities. It has revealed their hidden talents.”

By Janice Kaplan

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