LSSI Group Homes…A Place to Develop

Eye on LSSI, Summer 2007 Download PDF of entire publication)

Sharon Celestino, CNA, and Chad, a resident at LSSI’s Partnership House, enjoy a laugh and talk about his upcoming camping trip. “[Chad] has had a lot of medical issues but is doing well [now],” says Celestino.A Coke® machine sits on the porch of a large, comfortable, two-story house in Sterling on the banks of the Rock River. It’s an unremarkable symbol of independence for the residents of the Sterling Group Home, a program of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI).

The Coke machine is the result of a monthly residents’ council that voted to get it. The council also represents the independence that residents enjoy. The goal of the home and LSSI’s other group homes throughout the state — is to provide individuals who have developmental disabilities with an environment that is structured and caring to meet their needs, yet open to their differences.

“I tell new staff members: Don’t ever tell the residents ‘no,’” says Terra McKenna, program director. “Sometimes it is hard, but we have to remind ourselves that we work in their home.”

So when the residents’ council voted to get a Coke machine, the staff purchased one. Now, the home has two “Coke nights” a week, where the soft drinks are “on the house” for the residents. During the rest of the week, residents can also purchase drinks themselves with the money they earn.

And that’s another important point. “[Working] is the residents’ choice,” McKenna says. “They have options, and so they can work where they want to work.”

Twenty-two-year-old Chad, for example, works Monday and Friday at a sheltered workshop in Lanark, and Wednesday at a grocery store in Amboy, where he’s worked since he was 16 years old.

Residents set their own goals

Obtaining jobs for group home residents also helps the program meet the state’s requirements, which include working with residents to develop independent living skills, access to the community, economic self-sufficiency and the ability to self-administer medication. The state’s overall goal is to help the clients develop enough skills so that they could live independently some day.

“For most of our residents, though, that’s not a realistic goal,” says McKenna, who estimates that perhaps one person currently residing in the home has a 10 percent chance of moving out and living on his own. Still, the staff works to help residents succeed in their goals.

“We set goals each year,” McKenna says. “We ask clients [what they want their goals to be], or staff members may suggest some goals.

“Everyone here all has [a goal], something they want to do. And we all get excited when [the residents] make a change, even if it takes four years to accomplish. Success is slow, but it’s very worth it,” she notes.

Eight men — ranging from 27 to 74 years old — live at the Sterling Group Home, which is its capacity. Most are in their 30s and 40s. A number of clients have lived there a long time; some for the 15 years that the home has been open.

To live at the Sterling Group Home, a person must have a primary diagnosis of mental retardation; some have other medical diagnoses as well. Employees provide 24-hour supervision at the group home and also provide overnight support at Partnership House, the Intermittent CILA location where two clients live.

All of the group home clients attend sheltered workshops from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Then, they decide how they will spend the rest of the day and weekends. A couple of residents, for example, have participated in the Special Olympics, so during their “free time,” staff members help them to train for their events. Other residents enjoy using the equipment in the exercise room or use the nice big, back yard for relaxing, socializing or just watching the river go by.

McKenna enjoys her work at the group home. “They [the clients] are such a good group; they bring things into perspective,” she says. “Every day is a new day; there are days I don’t get a single thing [that I’ve planned to do] done … You don’t know what direction [the day will] go,” she adds. But [the residents] are so sweet.”

In addition to the group home in Sterling, LSSI runs several residences around the state for individuals with developmental disabilities. “What sets us apart from other group homes … is the population of the people with whom we work,” says Kevin Bercaw, associate director of LSSI’s developmental disabilities program. “We take in the hard-to-place individuals, those who are more disabled than [many of the people served by] other agencies.

“We try to bring out the best in them, [and that benefits] both the individuals we serve and people in the community,” he adds.

Improving residents’ health and self-sufficiency

Washington Place in Beardstown is another of LSSI’s three group homes specializing in people with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). LSSI operates the only group homes in the state specifically devoted to the care of individuals with PWS, a neurological disorder.

People with PWS always feel hungry and live with a continuous, involuntary urge to eat. They may also have other types of developmental disabilities. Most people with Prader-Willi syndrome require a structured environment and low-calorie diet throughout their lives to maintain their weight and health.

And, here, too, residents are encouraged to make their own decisions. “We let [residents] make as many choices as they can,” explains Ava Moore, program director at Washington Place. “We try to be as unstructured — and as [much like home] — as we can.”

Residents are active in churches, and staff members encourage them to be as independent as possible. “We try to work with residents’ families so that the residents are able to go to church without a staff member accompanying them,” Moore says.

She and her staff also work with residents to teach them some of the skills of independent living — for example, how to take the train and how to use a checkbook. They also offer lots of activities, and a couple of residents have participated in the Special Olympics.

Living at Washington Place has helped residents lose weight, which, in turn, has improved their health. Moore relates that one resident had previously been living at a nursing home where she had been gaining a pound a week. Now, she has lost that weight — and more.

Services tailored to individual needs

In Chicago, at the Palmer Square Group Home, Joseph, a thin, dark-haired young man with a mustache, sits at a table, playing with a Slinky®, while Gail Ray, a developmental training assistant, works with Philip, who is autistic, with math “flash cards.” Sitting at the table across from them, Dawn, a 20-something, shy-looking woman, rips up sheets of colorful paper.

“We do more supervision than training here,” says Folake Durodola, program director, noting that Palmer Square residents have moderate to severe disabilities. “But we do try to involve [them] in everyday independence and engage them in as much activity as possible,” she adds.

Four of the residents, who are severely disabled, enjoy training sessions between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the group home, a two-story brick house in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. There’s a lunch break between noon and 1 p.m. During the day, these clients learn simple chores — such as setting the table for meals, making lunches and, Ray emphasizes, “learning how to share.” In the afternoon, staff members take clients on trips out into the community. The group home’s other clients attend workshops or school during the day.

“We get [the residents] them out in the community and give them choices,” Durodola says, “such as whether to go to the movies or the store, so they can be part of the community as much as possible.

“Some will not be able to integrate [into the community],” she adds, “but if we can improve their quality of life, that’s good.”