Lisa Sherrard smiles brightly at Steve and Shirl Currie, “her smile lights up my life,” says Shirl.
Lisa, 36, has been living with Steve and Shirl in Sault Ste. Marie for about 11 years. Lisa, who has a developmental disability and is non-verbal, moved in with the Curries through Community Living Algoma’s Community Homes Program.
The Community Homes Program offers an alternative to more traditional residential settings, like group homes. It provides family-like support to adults with a developmental disability who want to live on their own but cannot live in their own apartment. Home providers let the person live more independently in the community in a conventional family setting with typical family supports, like food preparation.
Community Living Algoma interviews, qualifies and trains families who are interested in the Community Homes Program. To make a match, they look at both the home provider’s and the person’s likes and dislikes. “[We] look at how a match would work depending on the needs of both parties,” says Bert Leith, Services Manager at Community Living Algoma.
Once a potential match is found, there is a pre-placement phase, which allows the person with a developmental disability and the family to get to know each other. Ideally, placements through the program are long term. Staff at Community Living Algoma monitor, supervise and support the person and the home provider.
The program has many benefits, says Bert. “We’ve found there’s been a marked improvement in overall quality of life and disposition of a person when living in a Community Homes Program home.” The program also offers respite to home providers. “In many cases, during pre-placement we’re also looking for a second family to provide respite supports,” says Bert. Respite is important to give the home provider and person time to re-energize.
Of course energy isn’t a problem for the Curries; their household is a busy one! Steve and Shirl have three sons, two who live at home. They also provide a caring home environment to another adult with a developmental disability, Sharon, who moved in 10 years ago.
Steve and Shirl were inspired to get involved with the Community Homes Program through a friend. Community Living Algoma helped the Curries make the necessary accessibility improvements to their home so Lisa could live with them. A short period of adjustment for Lisa and the Curries followed. “We had to get used to Lisa, [as] she had to get used to us,” says Shirl.
Since living with the Curries, Lisa’s health has improved. She enjoys camping every summer, going to hockey games and watching fireworks. She participates in the Special Olympics — and has the awards to prove it proudly displayed in her bedroom. And Lisa finds time to work in the coffee area at the community church, offering coupons to visitors.
For the Curries, having Lisa in their home has been a great experience. “It’s been [rewarding] to see my family grow and revolve around Lisa and accept her,” says Steve. His wife, Shirl, agrees: “To think that there was a part of my life that didn’t have Lisa in it.Since she came into our home, our lives have never been the same.”
Community Living Algoma’s Community Homes Program is commonly known as the ‘Family Home Program’ across the province. To learn more about this program, and for information on how to become a home provider, please contact your local regional office.