Meet Brandyn and Kathy, both new to our Shared Living Program! Kathy moved in with Brandyn in April 2022. For the past several months, they’ve developed a routine with support from HMEA. Kathy has now become an integral part of the family.
We sat down with Brandyn to learn more about becoming a Shared Living Provider, and what life is like caring for and mentoring one of our supported individuals.
How did you get started with the Shared Living Program?
My heart for people drew me in. I’ve been working with people my entire life. I’ve worked with different ministry groups within my church community, and in recent years, in a nursing facility. There, I developed a love and affection for the elderly as a nurse aid. I personally enjoyed doing fun, happy activities for the residents.
Some of the nursing staff told me about the Shared Living Program, and a good friend of mine was a Shared Living Provider at the time. I got to hear about her first-hand experience with the program and HMEA, as well as meet the individual that lived with her. She’s the one who connected me with HMEA and introduced me to Barbara Taylor, the intake coordinator for the program and my interviewer.
Learning about the program was ultimately a journey of what I’m already interested in, what I felt connected to, and seeing someone close to me living it out and thinking, “Oh that’s something I could and would like to do.”
How did HMEA support you becoming a Shared Living Provider?
Right from the get-go, my interactions with Barbara were top-notch. She gave me confidence and really set the tone for what this process would look like. I’m a person with a lot of questions. She was quick to answer, and no question was out of the ordinary or strange. The whole application process was just a really good experience.
Once Barbara connected me with Kathy and her family and trained me, she stepped out. When it shifted to me being a Shared Living Provider, I can’t tell you just how amazing the experience was. HMEA assigns you a case manager, and ours, Carol Dolan, is unbelievable. She is always available to answer questions. I would text or call her randomly at first, sometimes on the weekends, because I wanted to make sure I was documenting our experience properly. If there were issues, I wanted to handle them in the right way. I value communication, and it’s always there with HMEA.
Carol really goes the extra mile. She’s developed a special connection with Kathy. We have consistent monthly meetings that Kathy looks forward to. We never feel like a “case” she has to manage. Carol cares. There is just this level of human connection and friendliness that she exudes that makes this a very positive experience. I feel very supported by HMEA and Carol in particular.
What’s a typical day with Kathy like?
Very routine. It’s the same situation every morning. Kathy shares the upstairs section of our house with my twin teenage girls. She gets up after them and gets ready independently. Then, we have breakfast together.
Part of what’s important to me about this experience, besides the family interaction, is that Kathy feels like she can have her independence. I’m a big-time coffee drinker, and I usually have a regular coffee maker. I purchased a Keurig for Kathy because I knew that would give her the freedom to make her own coffee in the mornings. She also enjoys a sense of purpose, so she’s always on “dish duty.”
Kathy participates in the Aspire program through HMEA, so once dishes are done, she heads there for the day. I work remotely, so I’m here when she gets home. She usually likes to unwind with another cup of coffee and by doing something relaxing: coloring in her adult coloring book, doing a craft, or watching television.
When I’m done with work, we always sit down to eat dinner as a family and talk about our days. Kathy will tell us what she did in the program that day. After dinner and “dish duty,” it depends on whatever is happening that week. Oftentimes, Kathy and I will take the dog for a walk in the park. We’re very involved in our church, so we might attend a service or visit a friend’s house for dessert.
On the weekends, it’s important to me that Kathy stays active and involved in things she enjoys. She is a gold medalist Special Olympian swimmer. I actually got her onto our family membership at the local YMCA. Saturday mornings, we’ll go to the pool and share a lane. While Kathy does her own workout, she’ll coach me, which is fantastic.
Have you noticed any changes in Kathy since coming to live with you?
I’ve definitely seen more comfortability on her part. When we first were introduced, it was like any new relationship. We had to adjust to each other. Now, she’s certainly become part of the group. My family is loud, and we interrupt each other a lot. Kathy’s become more vocal. Now, she’ll pipe in, too.
From her family’s observation, she seems happy here. She’ll get more excited and talkative, and that’s usually an indication that she’s content.
She’s definitely more herself and can express herself positively, but she also has the freedom to say ‘Hey, this isn’t working for me’ if she does get upset, just like any family!
What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming a Shared Living Provider?
From my experience, I think there is the consideration of your own family first and foremost. How will having someone new living with you permanently affect your family dynamic? Luckily, my husband and I did a lot of preparing our children for what this would look like.
Not everything is rosy. We are a busy family with two active teenagers in sports. We are always running out the door to church or a basketball game. We move at a fast pace. When Kathy doesn’t get the chance to finish what she’s working on how she’d like, she can get a little upset. That’s when I have to reel it back in and adjust to her pace, even if we are late. You have to consider how your family operates and how it will affect the individual coming to live with you. You don’t want there to be anything negative for the person moving in. You’ve got to prioritize them.
I also think it’s important to be mindful of the person, who they are, what they like, what they need, etc. I’m not a swimmer! I’ve adjusted my life to accommodate Kathy so that she can continue to do what she likes to do. It can be easy to overlook their interests, so having that mindset of “I’m going to make space for this person’s hobbies” and incorporating it into your routine is important.
I’d also advise to be willing to connect to the family. The unique thing about Kathy is that her biological family is very involved in her life. I text and call often, especially with her siblings. Connection to the family is key because I can assure them that Kathy is doing okay.
Overall, what have you taken away from your experience as a Shared Living Provider?
I would share just how awesome an experience it is. This program is a great opportunity to be a servant and give to other people. It’s created within my family a sense of “we are here for someone else.”
With teenagers, it’s easy for them to be into themselves – their sports, their lives. Having Kathy here has opened their eyes to the idea that we should love and give to someone else.