To the Editor:

Shared Living is a residential option for individuals with disabilities who need or want to live with a host family who will help support and guide their daily living needs in a home-like setting.

As the Hope Association enters its 61st year of services and supports to people with disabilities, we wanted to share a nice example of how Shared Living has positively impacted the life of one of our participants. So we interviewed Richard Jennison and Stacy Thompson for their firsthand accounts of Shared Living.

Stacy was a longtime Direct Support Professional for the Hope Association. In the mid 1990s, her work focused on helping people with disabilities to live more independently under the newly formed Supported Living Program of the Hope Association. Here, she assisted a number of people with disabilities to get and establish their own apartments here in the Rumford area.

This was a huge step for Stacy and for the association. We wanted to make sure that we were setting people up for success, and Stacy was one of the right people to make that happen. In her work with Supported Living, it was her job to make sure all of the supports were in place to ensure that someone with disabilities could live successfully on their own.

As a Direct Support Professional, her focus was to teach daily living skills such as cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene, shopping, transportation and developing natural supports in the community.

One of her participants was Richard Jennison (full named and picture used by his request). Richard lived independently in his own apartment under the Supported Living program for almost 15 years. He shared that he really learned a lot of new skills and enjoyed living in his apartment, but admitted that loneliness and confusion were sometimes hard on him.

As he approached retirement age, he had a couple of medical situations that were quite concerning to him, so he looked into the Shared Living program at the Hope Association. At the same time, under encouragement from the Hope Association, Stacy started to explore the options of becoming a Shared Living Provider.

This was a bit of a scary step for her because there were financial considerations to weigh; insurance and other benefits to account for, and because of the possible impacts that it might have on her family. And, she wanted to make sure that she was willing and ready to make this kind of commitment for the long haul.

After much thought, a lot of homework, and more than a few prayers, she and her husband made the commitment to open up their home and lives to Shared Living. This meant remodeling their home to include a small apartment, and remodeling their pre-retirement lifestyles to invite someone into their home.

This is a long story, but I want to add that by her own account, in hindsight, Stacy’s very happy that they did make the commitment.

After almost a year of planning and preparation, in May 2015, Richard Jennison moved in with Dale and Stacy Thompson, and neither of them have looked back. It’s been a great fit.

Richard shares that he has his own small apartment in the basement of the Thompson’s home. He has a nice bedroom, living room and storage space. He has full access to a washing machine, dryer and other utilities as he needs.

He can enjoy as much private time as he desires, or he’s welcome to be part of the Thompson family. He can eat separately or join the family for their meals, and he can come and go as he pleases. Stacy and Dale are always there to be supportive in Richard’s daily life needs, but they are always supportive of his choice.

Richard is quick to share that he still oversees his meds, his daily nutrition, his daily schedule, his laundry, his personal space, cleanliness and more, but it’s really nice to know that he can bounce things by both Stacy and Dale to have that extra assurance that things are going well. It’s nice to have people to talk to, to watch a show with, to travel with and to just be around.

If Stacy and Dale want a weekend out, Richard’s completely happy and content to manage on his own. He enjoys having friends over and he enjoys being part of the extended Thompson family. And, he loves being referred to as Pepé by the Thompson’s grandchildren. He’s much more than just a tenant. He’s a valued part of their family.

Asked what some of the benefits are from Shared Living, Richard shared that he’s not lonely anymore, his nutrition is much better, he takes considerably less medication than he used to, and he’s overall much healthier and happy. All of this has led to less frequent visits to his personal physician, which makes him very happy.

Because of his link with Stacy, he discovered a sister and niece he didn’t know existed until last year. They came to Rumford to visit with him last summer and now he’s planning to travel to Wisconsin at the end of this month to visit with them. Richard loves to travel.

When asked whether Shared Living has been a good fit for both of them, the immediate answer was yes. Both of them are extremely happy that Shared Living has worked so well both for Richard and for the Thompsons, and given the opportunity to go back to the way things were, neither of them would.

This is a long story, but it’s just the tip of an iceberg that tells just a fraction of who and what Richard
Jennison is all about: retiree, volunteer, board member, advocate, friend …

Greg Fraser, executive assistant

Hope Association

Newry