When Nancy DeRivers found out she was going to be getting two new neighbours, she was ecstatic.
“It was something I was definitely looking forward to,” she says.
Nancy is one of eight people living with an intellectual disability who are enjoying their new home in two duplexes recently built by Community Living Peterborough. The duplexes offer eight apartments with accessible living spaces. What is really innovative about this housing model though, is that there are two Trent University nursing students — known as “intentional neighbours” — who are also tenants.
“Our intentional neighbours are there to be friends and build connections with the people who are living there,” explains Barb Hiland, Director of Operations for Community Living Peterborough. “It also helps the students develop their nursing career in a non-clinical way.”
The idea was inspired by a similar housing model run by Community Living Elmira and District called “friendly neighbours”. Similar to the friendly neighbours program, Community Living Peterborough covers the cost of tuition and rent for the students, and in return, the students offer their friendship and support to the tenants. For some, this means a quick chat whenever they see each other, while for others like Nancy, it means spending time together more regularly.
“We go out for breakfast, we go out for coffee,” says Nancy. “And I like hanging out with both of them because they’re fun to be with.”
While the tenants benefit from having increased social interaction, the students also benefit by learning how to interact and develop relationships with people of all abilities.
“We have to learn to communicate with people who have different ideas of what things mean,” explains intentional neighbour Ashley LaFlamme. “Learning to get our point across and understanding what they mean — it will be good for us when we are eventually nurses.”
Beyond the practical benefits, the social advantages for both Ashley and Nancy are also evident. They’re constantly making each other laugh, and they have already established an evening routine of taking walks around the block together.
Barb points out that having intentional neighbours is not only an innovative idea, but it’s also a very natural, mutually-beneficial way for Community Living Peterborough to support their tenants.
“We are looking at an inclusive community and we’re not segregating people who are living with an intellectual disability,” she says. “We want to show the gift and the value of people who are included — what they have to give back to these students, as well as what the students can give to us.”