Home sharing: A perfect fit
“It was a perfect fit for everyone,” says Lianna Jones. In November, her family began a home sharing arrangement with Robert Mitchell and it wasn’t long before Robert became a natural part of family “wing night,” summer camping plans and day to day living.
Robert’s journey to the place he now calls home has taken many years. “I’ve had to be patient,” he says.
Robert, now 60, was an army kid who moved around a lot. Pinned to the wall in his room is a large pencil sketch he created from a small black and white photo of his father in uniform. His family moved from the Lower Mainland to St. Laurent, Quebec in 1956, then to Ottawa and eventually overseas to France where his sister Marlene was born. Three years later, the family returned to the Lower Mainland once again.
Robert was around 12 years old when he was admitted to his first group home and then to Woodlands School. In 1963 he moved into Chris Home Society, a working farm for the people with disabilities in Langley. He smiles fondly, “I remember rows and rows of vegetables.”
In 1967, he turned 18 and craved independence, so he moved to Vernon to be close to his widowed mother. Although he did well living independently, the fact he is a brittle diabetic created complications. Unable to maintain the strict diet needed to avoid serious health issues, he once again returned to a group home environment at Edgehill Manor.
Darlene Orr, the manager of Edgehill Manor, speaks fondly of Robert. He was only supposed to stay for three weeks but it turned into 17 years. Still, Robert yearned for more independence and a new living environment.
For Lianna, who had been a children’s respite provider for the past 15 years, the opportunity to welcome Robert in to her home was met with excitement. In preparation for Robert coming to live with the family, her husband Bryan learned how to administer needles and they were trained to monitor blood sugars and diet.
Although their home in Falkland is about 50 kilometers away from the resources and people Robert has known in Vernon for over 20 years, the location has not prevented his continued access at all. A Falkland resident who travels to Vernon on a regular basis ensures Robert can participate in Vernon & District Association for Community Living programs twice a week. But of paramount importance is Thursdays. Robert grins from ear to ear, “I have lunch with Betty.” Betty is his girlfriend of 22 years. They bowl together and sometimes she even beats him.
Today most people in Falkland know Robert and he’s often out and about, volunteering or visiting the library. On Wednesdays, he can be found in the Learning Centre, learning about e-mail and how to download all the digital photos he’s taken with his digital camera, a going away present from Edgehill Manor which he keeps with him at all times. Robert also has his own mail key which gives him the perfect opportunity to visit the post office to shoot the breeze with postmistress Karen.
He loves shopping and is learning about bargains and the value of money, and he also loads his own Starbucks and Tim Horton’s cards. The community newspaper, which had published an introduction to the community, has also hired Robert to deliver issues.
He plans to spend some of the income from his job playing golf this summer. On a recent trip to Vernon to buy socks at Sportsmart, Lianna discovered the store was having a huge sale. She ended up walking out with a set of golf clubs for both her 15-year-old daughter Emma, and for Robert, “because I’m thinking, we’re all together.” Robert, who has been told he’s a natural golfer, has offered to teach Emma the proper stance for swinging her new clubs.
“My old friends at bowling and dances tell me they’re happy I found a home I love,” says Robert. He loves the peace and quiet and finds great joy in working on water colors in the privacy of his rooms and listening to music. He speaks fondly of his Aunt Olive and her daughter who live on Vancouver Island. They’ve always remained in close touch. Darlene, who also remains a constant in Robert’s life, provides respite and is really pleased to see him in his new home, “The Jones are amazing folks and Robert is happy.”
Robert is now comfortable making his own breakfast with the appropriate foods, and chooses to spend time alone when he wants to. “We’re so happy that he loved us and wanted to live here. It’s a huge feeling,” says Lianna.