At Living Well Disability Services our 500 employees serve 300 people with varying degrees of disabilities. Some of our homes specialize in supporting people with intense medical needs requiring extra care in feeding, hygiene, and mobility. And some of our homes, like 3801 in Robbinsdale, are more like apartment living with extra help available to help navigating the freedom and choices that come with daily life. This house is unique in that not all of the people there need 24/7 care, so much as coaching to help them make the best choices to meet their goals, stay healthy and make decisions that will benefit them in the long term.
This house fills a need in the community to offer supports on decision making and care, but not at a physically extensive level, using an individualized approach to the level of assistance people need. Many of the people who live here have likely reached the level of independence that they will achieve and are best suited to stay versus moving on to fully independent living situations on their own. Think of these as college apartments, but instead of an RA down the hall, the building is staffed 24/7 but not in the individual units. If someone needs assistance there is help available, but for the most part the people served help make their own meals, manage their budgets, walk to stores by themselves and exercise as much independence as possible within their community. Cindi Sharp, Program Manager at 3801, says that in this environment a big part of the caregiving lives in helping them make good decisions. “People with cognitive disabilities do not always think long term, often make quick decisions, and spend money too fast,” says Sharp. Add the fact that you cannot cure cognitive or long-term disabilities, and the job is a bit of a dance. Repetition is key, because if you stop teaching a skill individuals can lose the information.
In this house there are nine distinct personalities and being a part of community and living with free will are at the top of the list of priorities for the staff and people served. Care in this environment is not easier because the physical needs are less, it is equally challenging but in different ways. The people here know they are part of a rich community and want to soak up all the wonder that life has to offer. This place is special because they can walk about the community and get to know people at the bank, the local restaurant, and the Dollar Tree. They know all the workers and regulars and go to all the local events as well. Robbinsdale Meet & Greet with lots of swag, the Fire Department Open house and Street Dance, Whiz Bang Days and Sacred Heart’s annual festival are well loved adventures. The staff works as equal parts coach, care provider and teacher to help everyone thrive.
Let’s meet everyone and showcase the shiny personalities who live here.
Dale will be 84 in April and have been here since 1984. He is one of those people who never wants to move out. He loves polka music and the wizard of Oz. He is somebody for whom many of the things in the past are more real than the present. Dales reminisces about growing up in Excelsior and has amazing relatives who make sure he is still involved with family. They help him celebrate and enjoy holidays.
Doug is 45 and has an innate ability to connect with people. He is jolly and personable and will reach out and chat with people. Wherever he goes he makes a friend. “Hey, how you doing,” is his favorite conversation starter. As one of six kids, he had lots going on in his childhood. He will eat anything, loves classic cars, puzzles make him happy and he loves staying in the know by watching the news. Doug really likes to help, is very techy, and over the last year has learned how to text people, which means his sister in San Fran now gets a daily text. His family is very involved, and he gets together with his dad occasionally.
Angelina is 42, and is one of the creatives at the home. She is a Lego expert, loves beading, and her colorful marker work is featured on this year’s Living Well Transforming Lives Gala printed materials. All of her artwork is even more exceptional when you realize she only has the use of one arm, which means all that detail work takes a bit longer. She can do more with one hand than most others who have both. She does not let her disability get in her way of her abilities and loves to share her work with friends. Recently she got a cell phone that has taken a little getting used to, but with all the apps on there, she found a way to color on there. Once an artist, always an artist! To understand a bit about her beautiful brain, she can build Lego sculptures without a map, and makes rice without measuring anything. She loves to help, and even makes coffee and pancakes for staff.
Mary will be 60 in December and is Angelina’s roommate. She also happens to be an incredible artist as well. She specializes in painting nature art featuring wolves, as well as colorful geometric pieces utilizing pen and marker. Her father used to live in Alaska which is one the reasons she is drawn to depicting trees, and once at a zoo a wolf came and sat near her by the partition, and ever since she has felt connected to wolves. One of her pieces was featured in the gala last year, making it the first-time housemates had art used in consecutive galas. Their desks are next to each other in their living room studio which is where all the magic happens. It is colorful, vibrant and a happy room indeed. Mary loves Tik Tok and makes lots of videos on there. She also enjoys having her TV on all day and could watch cat videos on repeat. She is a little shy and drawing helps her settle her mind.
Jeff is 62 and is a travel fanatic. He loves classic monsters, especially Frankenstein who he calls the big green guy. He is so dedicated that he dresses as Frankenstein at Halloween and wears a beloved green Frankenstein sweatshirt often. He visited Transylvania with long term employee Rita McAninch-Hastings on vacation where they did a Halloween tour of England, stayed next to Hyde Park, looked for Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, saw Dracula’s castle, and even spent Halloween in Transylvania. Jeff had the BEST time ever. So much so, at one point he got up from the table and approached a staff member dressed as a ghost, asked her to dance, danced with her and even asked her for a hug—and she gave him one. It was a full-on adventure, and he made every minute count. He also loves the Wizard of Oz and travelled to Liberal, Kansas, to see the Oz Museum with Heidi Casey, and to Chicago to see the Ruby Red Slippers. He is exceptionally fun to travel with, loves trains and will occasionally say things to push your buttons.
Patsy is 53 and moved in almost 32 years ago. She has the most caring heart of anyone you will ever meet but will say what’s so when advocating for herself and others. She thrives on routine and when things get out of order will get a bit anxious. She has a big personality and lives out loud, people in the community know and adore her spirit. Patsy will see people and immediately start talking, which means she makes new friends everywhere she goes. People remember her as she is a shining light to all who meet her.
One person who really loves Patsy is her husband Mike, who turned 52 in earlier this month, and also lives at the house. He is much quieter and prefers to be in the background, allowing her to take over the room. Remarkably they lived in the same complex for 20 years before falling in love. Cindi Sharp says, “They have a better marriage than most people.” Adding that they do the work and are committed to making the marriage successful. “They are a nice pair, they balance each other out,” says Sharpe. Mike is naturally more subdued and shuffles baseball cards to stay calm. When out and about Patsy will often say, “My husband Mike is very shy, it is gonna take him a while to get to know you.” She expertly takes the lead and lets him warm up to situations. He works at a card shop which is perfect for this quiet guy, as it allows him to be surrounded by sporting cards which makes him happy.
Tanya is 45 and the newest housemate at 3801, having moved in a year ago. She believes if this were the 1950s, she’d be a beatnik. She is way too intense to be a hippy and embraces the paranormal. She also really LOVES Christmas, and wears holiday socks and clothing year-round. She even considered legally changing her name to Christmas. Tanya is either an expert negotiator or brilliant at getting others to do things for her. Tanya is stubborn and will stick with anything if it suits her needs. She is a true princess and is always advocating for her needs.
Speaking of princesses, Tanya’s roommate Peggy is also a princess, which works well for these feminists. Peggy will be 50 soon and was raised in an environment where women were strong and had amazing jobs. Her idea of being successful is having an office job, and pre pandemic could be found at Living Well corporate offices working with the team doing office tasks. She grew up in Syracuse, NY where she was one the first students with disabilities to be mainstreamed in the school system there. She is a self-advocate and was on the Board at ACT/Advocating Change Together and is a member of SAM/Self-Advocates Minnesota. Peggy marched at the capitol shredding signs that said retarded. She also dreamed of being a model and has had a few gigs, bringing her dream to life.
Last but not least, this home is managed by three pros that have 103 years of professional work experience! Yep, 103. Program Manager, Cindi Sharp, has been with Living Well for 39 years and brings her smiling face to work every day. She is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and a steadfast advocate for the people she serves. She is equal parts advocate, teacher, and mama bear. Rita McAninch-Hastings is one of the Assistant Program Managers and has been with Living Well for 41 years. Remarkably, she has worked in 28 of our 37 homes over the past four decades. She has a quick wit, tells a mean story, and goes to the boxing gym many days before work. And Heidi Casey is the newbie of this group, having been with the company for 23 years. She is the powerhouse of paperwork and bristled when asked if this house was easier to staff because the needs were less. She eloquently pointed out physical demands look different than emotional ones, but the work is important and heavy in both areas of care. These three get it—they know the importance of advocacy and work to enrich the lives of Dale, Doug, Angelina, Mary, Jeff, Patsy, Mike, Tanya and Peggy every day they show up to work.