I want to share with you a story about family. It begins when Tim was born on the second of June, 1978, to teenaged parents. They married and did their best, but their son was born with a heart issue that required major surgery and some pretty intense care. Ultimately, when Tim was almost 3, he went to live in Longmeadow with Mary and Adrian Phaneuf who already had two daughters and a third daughter on the way.
Tim became their son in every way. He was very much a brother to his foster sisters and now to their spouses and all eight of their children who consider Tim their uncle. Tim’s birth mom visited periodically and was actually kind of fostered herself by the Phaneuf family, but Tim hasn’t seen or heard from her in about 16 years.
Tim has developmental disabilities and he lived with the Phaneuf family until he was 22. Then, in 2000, he came to Meadows Homes, now part of CHD, and moved in at 15 Westernview Drive in East Longmeadow. There were two housemates, Steve and Frank, and initially it was a challenge for everyone. Steve had lived in an apartment with no roommates for a number of years, so sharing space with two others took some getting used to. Frank had lived in a foster home that was not anything like Tim’s foster family so their life experiences were very different.
Things went along OK for a number of years, but then in 2007 a fourth roommate, Andrew, joined the guys at 15 Westernview. Tim and Andrew quickly became best friends. They considered themselves brothers. It may not surprise you that the Phaneuf family included Andrew in their family gatherings and dinner dates. Andrew’s family included Tim in their lives as well. In 2010 the guys all moved to 474 Somers Road in East Longmeadow.
There was a lot of learning to do. When Tim first came to us, he needed a chart and behavior plan to help him with personal hygiene and other basic skills. He still spent much of his time playing with toys and needed help in most areas of his life. Over the years we worked with Tim to become more independent and self-sufficient. Eventually we did away with the chart and he made the choice to donate his toys to charity.
We also worked with Tim on basic household skills and safety. He mastered doing laundry and household chores. He learned to prepare cold snacks and eventually started cooking. He learned to prepare shopping lists and go shopping for the items. There were lots of tests as he role played being home alone or out in the community and practiced scenarios using the “what if” model. What started with ten minutes of alone time has grown so he now has a home alone waiver for eight hours at home and three hours in the community. Tim has grown tremendously and is so proud of his progress.
Tim works, too. He started at Work Opportunity Center in 1999, doing a variety of tasks, mostly piece work. In 2010 he got a job at Longmeadow Mobil, which employs Tim directly. He makes coffee and any other tasks given and everyone loves him.
Life always brings changes and in 2011 Andrew had to move to Joan Street and Lisa moved to Somers Road. Though they lived apart, we kept Tim and Andrew in very close contact. Tim was a huge help in caring for Andrew and being a real light for everyone. You see, Andrew had early onset Alzheimer’s and Tim remained his touchstone. Andrew died suddenly in 2012 and it was a sad time for Tim. His level of compassion and healthy way of coping was simply priceless for all who loved Andrew.
Consider, if you will, just how far Tim has come. He can help prepare grocery lists, independently go into the store and purchase the items. He can prepare a full multi-course meal with little support – and some meals with no support. He independently takes care of his personal household chores as well as those he shares with other members of his household. He goes to the library and the gym. He independently registered to vote. It’s much more than trips to a nearby store. Here an example of what I mean.
Tim and his housemates all have earned waivers to be home alone, so it wasn’t unusual for one staff person to leave as scheduled at 8:00 pm and another staff person to arrive at 9:00 pm. That was the case one night, and several minutes past 8:00 the power in the house went out. Keep in mind the next staff person wasn’t scheduled to arrive for nearly an hour. A power outage wasn’t one of the “what if” scenarios he had practiced, but Tim figured out what to do.
He got a lantern and brought it to his roommate Steve. Then, he took his list of contacts and telephone numbers and, hand-in-hand with his roommate Lisa, went to the next door neighbor’s house. He knocked on their door, and asked the neighbor to please call us and tell us that the power was out. It’s worth noting that we didn’t have a phone that worked without power at the time, but we do now! Tim and Lisa would not enter the neighbor’s house, but once the neighbor called us, Tim and Lisa went back home and sat patiently with Steve, flashlights and lanterns in hand. It wasn’t long before the power came back on, but how they handled the situation was, in a word, AWESOME! They proved that they could handle real situations even better than the tests, and a power outage was not even a scenario that had been covered!
There’s something else that important to wrap your head around. Despite being thrust into a home with virtual strangers who had totally different life experiences and personalities, Tim and his housemates are family. They love one another. They care for and help one another out. I believe that Tim brought with him the unconditional love and understanding he was shown from a loving family – the Phaneuf family – and he shares that with his housemates. The family he grew up with helped him to learn tasks, embrace adulthood and work for independence. Today Tim is able to share that with the family he lives with. What a perfect combination.
Think about Tim’s life experience and it makes you think about foster families and residential homes for adults with developmental disabilities. Do you know what foster families really are? Do you know what adult residential homes really are? They’re families, which is why they’re so important to support every way we can.