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Meeting of the minds: How two strangers became friends
They finish each other’s sentences, or sometimes start howling with laughter before the other can get their words out.
Natalie Prowse, 55, is a PhD student in neuroscience at Carleton University. Jalynn Plaus, 34, has an intellectual disability and works part-time at Value Village. The two were matched three years ago when Prowse was casting around for a volunteer opportunity and Plaus was looking for a cooking partner to give her some culinary tips. The two would meet every two weeks, decide on a meal, collect the ingredients and prepare a meal, with leftovers.
“I introduced her to the wonders of hoisin sauce,” Prowse says.
But the cooking partnership evolved far beyond sauces and into a deep friendship.
Prowse will sometimes take Plaus to her riding lesson at a stable near Carleton Place. They took a trip to Montreal to see the circus school, and they’re talking about a trip to LaRonde to try the roller-coasters. “It seems we both love roller-coasters,” Prowse says.
They watched the last solar eclipse with the help of a pinhole camera. They both got Fitbits to exercise — Plaus often tracks more than 10,000 steps a day — and egg each other on to walk more. They have even started getting competitive about getting enough slumber, tracking their sleeping patterns using their Fitbits. They both need to develop better sleeping habits.
“Neither of us is a morning person,” Prowse says.
“We’re both night owls,” Plaus adds.
Prowse, 55, had worked in information technology for most of her adult life when she decided she wanted to pursue her interest in neuroscience. She quit her job, did an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree in two years before embarking on her PhD.
Prowse already volunteers with a number of groups that encourage youth to take an interest in science and engineering. But three years ago, she was casting around for another kind of opportunity when she found a posting on the volunteer board at Carleton looking for volunteers to partner with the members of LiveWorkPlay. The organization aims both to help its clients overcome barriers and to help the community appreciate those with intellectual disabilities.
“I liked the idea of working with someone one-on-one and developing a relationship,” says Prowse. “I looked at the organization. I felt it was really worthwhile.
LiveWorkPlay has a program that matches members with volunteers. Usually complete strangers, like Prowse and Plaus. Volunteer co-oordinator Alex Darling introduced the two in the fall of 2014. The organization has about 70 matches and about 80 people still waiting to be matched.
“Regardless of disability, meeting new people and friends can be hard. So when matches transition to more, it’s a pretty great thing,” says Darling.
Plaus lives independently in a downtown apartment and has worked at Value Village for the past decade, three shifts a week, about 12 hours a week. She has recently done duty as a cashier and Prowse has coached her. They often stay in contact by text.
“Jalynn has taught me that we should never assume or put limitations on what a person can do when they set their mind to it,” Prowse says.
Plaus says in her childhood, she was told by a support worker she would never walk without a walker and would never be able to live on her own. “She didn’t accept those limitations, and proved the woman wrong on every count.”
What do they like about each other? “She’s crazy like I am,” says Plaus with a grin.
“She has a great sense of humour,” says Prowse. “She’s adventurous. She challenges me. She has a really good heart, and she cares about her family. She remembers everybody’s birthday.”