It is hard to believe but in 2022 Living Well Disability Services opened three new houses after closing the Victoria Road location back in April. This plan was in place for about five years, and on the radar for at least a decade as we knew the importance of creating smaller home environments were the best way to serve people with disabilities. But as you can imagine, changes this big take lots of time, tons of patience, and so many helping hands. It is impossible to fully express the need and the gratitude.
With over 50 years of experience providing care for people impacted by disabilities, we have learned a few things along the way. At the top of the list is the knowledge that the people served by Living Well deserve the very best care. A warm home, comfortable bed and nourishing meals are critical needs, but so are friendships, emotional assistance, and activities. All the “extra” stuff adds up to a life well lived versus just an ordinary life while improving wellbeing outcomes.
We also learned that with time and experience comes change. And we learned that change is necessary to meet evolving needs and goals. So, with change in mind, we made the decision to shift the care approach from our largest house into three smaller homes. This was done to better meet the needs of our staff and people served.
Over the past few decades, it has been discovered that the lives of those in the disability community are enriched through living situations like our own. Which means that instead of larger institutions there is a trend towards smaller community-based homes with four to six people, versus eight to twelve, or even larger that were prominent in the 1970s.
Living Well Disability Services has been planning the shift for a few years, purchased the homes in 2020, and started renovations on the first two homes well over a year ago. We knew having quality people on board is essential and were lucky to work with a strong group of advocates who all pitched in to help us along the way.
There were so many people involved to ensure this change happened successfully and the list is long. At the state level DHS, and county lead staff (case managers, financial workers) made sure funding was in place. The state and city agencies helped us navigate the remodels and setting up services. It was a lot of work for the Hennepin, Dakota and Ramsey counties involved, and we appreciate the partnership.
Jerry and Jerik Zachman, who run a family business, are not only talented at making homes compliant, but genuinely support our values. They were the magic contractors behind the renovations. What makes them even more special is that while on site, they and their crews at J-ZAC serve as unofficial ambassadors when they tell the neighbors how great the people and services are when they approach them about the work being done.
We were also delighted to have used the services of Shannon Eberlein, an Accessibility Specialist with Modified Living Spaces. She was a crucial part of the process as she wrote the modifications for the home renovations and presented them to the therapy team for approval. Rhonda Arendt and Jesi Kaiser have both been part of Living Well’s therapy team for decades and knew the best way to set the rooms and systems in the homes. They worked closely with Shannon to make sure the needs of the people we serve would be met and that their best interests were the top priority. ARRM Award winner Julie Jacob, also with the therapy team, added insight and recommendations at Selkirk with one of the folks moving from Congress. And Alex Boylin, with Alexander Group Real Estate, helped us buy three houses during a pandemic—and sell the Victoria Road property to Dakota County—none of which were simple or easy tasks. We also thank longtime partner Kingwood Management, whose crews were helpful with prepping the spaces after the renovations, as well as interdepartmental work of Living Well Operations, HR, Program, and Accounting. It took years and a village, and we are beyond grateful.
Without all of these dedicated professionals, support from families and our incredible staff, none of this would have been possible. But here we are, years after the idea was first born, with three incredible new homes open and filled with love and joy.
Mears opened April 26, and Robert, Diane, Stephen, and Sarah call it home. This house is on a corner with a huge yard and lots of trees. It needed extensive modifications to get the bathrooms wheelchairs accessible, installation of lifts, a new ramp out front and new flooring on the main floor. Mears is a beautiful home that is a shining example of what can be achieved with a great plan.
Cloman opened on April 28, and is where Pao, Shirley, Dan, and Michelle live. This is the house that was featured in our 2021 Gala video highlighting the expenses of what it takes to make a house fit to comfortably serve people with disabilities. It is a lovely two story with staff offices on the second floor, four bedrooms, a gorgeous open kitchen and a beautiful deck and yard out back. This house required a lift installation, entry ramp and complete bathroom renovation. It is stunning and the perfect place to call home.
And Selkirk is the newest new home as it just opened on October 6. Kelly, Ryen, Shannon and Shaun live there. A gorgeous rambler, the house is spacious with a yard full of trees a beautiful airy kitchen and lots of space to move about. Ramps were installed out front and in back, and the bathrooms were redone to have elevated tubs. It was in this house prior to move in day that we filmed the videos for the 2022 Gala!
To get everyone settled and happy was a group effort indeed! From the contractors we hired, staff who pitched in, families who showed up on moving day and volunteers who did extra moving related projects, we say thank you.
All of us at Living Well are grateful to finally make the changes we knew would have a real and profound impact on the quality of life for all involved. To know that everyone will start 2023 in their NEW homes is a delight.