A place to call home

In All, Features, Health by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: Nov. 22, 2012 | [ WEB ] | [ PDF ]


Meeting Dora Fernandes, a funny and joyful woman, it’s hard to imagine she was ever known for never having a smile on her face.

But before she moved in with Cambridge resident Isabel Reid in December 2010, Fernandes was not social and often isolated herself.

“It’s made a huge, huge difference in Dora’s life. People said before she came to live with me, they never saw Dora smile,” Reid said.

Fernandes, who has a developmental disability, previously lived in a group home. The busy house bustling with other residents was too overwhelming for her.

When Community Living Cambridge announced they were launching the Associate Home Program — allowing adults with developmental disabilities to move in with single adults or families in the community — Fernandes was one of the first people to sign up.

For Reid, a registered nurse who worked with special-needs students at a school board, the opportunity to help someone by opening up her home was a no-brainer.

“I’ve worked in this field all my life,” she said.

Humble about her desire to help others, Reid said, “I think that you get a lot more satisfaction out of helping someone than you ever give to a situation.”

Reid previously housed international students from Conestoga College during their terms in the region, so she was accustomed to having new people living with her.

Before moving in, Fernandes and Reid had organized several outings together, such as swimming and dinners, and had a sleepover to make sure they were the right fit for one another.

Don Crowther, manager of the program, said that many visits with a home provider and home sharer is part of the standard process of ensuring the joint living situation will work.

“The application is quite vigorous … you want to make sure there’s compatibility and support for the people moving out,” he said.

Along with a background check, many other factors, about issues such as children, pets and location, are also considered before a match is considered.

A counsellor through Community Living Cambridge works with the associate home family throughout the move-in process to help ease the transition.

The home provider also receives rent to cover costs associated with having another person in the home.

Once a strong match is made, there are myriad benefits for both home providers and sharers.

“Everyone that moves in is quite happy within a quick amount of time,” Crowther said.

Fernandes’s smile while she and Reid reflect on their time living together attests to the benefits.

“I think she’s become much more social,” said Reid. “She participates in all the activities (at home).”

And Reid is thrilled to have another member in her family.

“We’re almost like sisters,” she said.

Reid’s son and his family live next door. With her other children also in the city, frequent family gatherings gives Fernandes a strong sense of belonging.

“My granddaughter was born a few days after Dora moved in here, so she’s never known anything but that Dora is a part of the family,” Reid explained. “And Dora, the first time she held the baby … it was an incredible moment. She just loved it.”

Their location also allows Fernandes to maintain her independence walking or taking the bus to her two jobs and travelling in the city for leisure.

“If you need anything in the (Cambridge Centre) mall, Dora will tell you precisely where to go,” Reid said.

Fernandes loves trips to the mall to see the stores and the many people shopping. But Fernandes did not spend nearly as much time out in the community while she lived in the group home, Reid said.

Fernandes and Reid’s success story explains why there is a waiting list to place other adults currently living in group homes into the Associate Home Program.

“It’s an amazing transition into a wonderful life, that’s happening with everyone we place,” said Crowther.

There are 10 associate home families in the city and Crowther looks forward to more people signing up and opening their homes to help the program grow.

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About the Author

Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.