| By Lori O'Brien|
HOLYOKE City resident Luz Fernandez opens up her home to others in the hopes of making a difference in their lives as part of a unique Community Enterprises program.
Community Enterprises was founded in 1975 and its mission is to support self-determination for individuals with disabilities and other challenges to actively live, learn and work in the community, according to James P. Sullivan, M.Ed., community developer and social worker.
"We are looking for people who are going to open up and share their lives with the person," said Sullivan during an interview with Reminder Publications. "It is not a simple boarder/tenant type of relationship but one of developing a mutual bond of care and concern between the two parties."
Currently, the Holyoke office provides support to seven people and 12 people are served out of the Springfield office, added Sullivan.
Fernandez has been participating in the program since 2001 and has invited several people into her home since that time.
"Each person becomes a part of my family," said Fernandez during an interview with Reminder Publications.
Individuals have come and gone over the years but Fernandez stressed that she keeps in contact with them because she cares about their well-being.
"I try to make a difference in someone's life," she added.
Fernandez recently opened up a room to Anne, a woman in her mid 60's, who Fernandez describes as "wonderful." With a background in home health care, Fernandez is able to help Anne with her personal needs before both leave the house for the day. Fernandez also prepares all the meals for the two of them.
"I help her to get ready and she appreciates the assistance," said Fernandez.
On weekends, Fernandez said she takes Anne with her to the store and church and for rides on Route 116.
"I don't consider her a client," said Fernandez, adding "we have a lot of fun together."
"I value Luz's contribution to Anne's life in general but, in particular, Luz has helped Anne lose weight which has been a cause of some health concerns on our part," said Sullivan.
As part of the home share program, Fernandez receives $1,000 tax-free each month and homes are still needed in safe neighborhoods in Chicopee, Holyoke and South Hadley, according to Sullivan. The program is funded by the Division of Medical Assistance of Massachusetts.
Prospective individuals interested in opening up their home must pass a CORI screen as well as an evaluation of their home to ensure the healthy, safety and well-being of people who are served through the program.
"This program is important because it provides an option for disabled people to live in a non institutional setting," said Sullivan. "It is also good for disabled people who in their own apartment might be socially isolated, eat poorly or have marginal social or community connection."
The minimum age of program participants is 18 and they must have MassHealth eligibility and an income to pay their room and board fees. Sullivan is available to help and assist anyone interested in participating to determine whether this program is a good fit for them.
Individuals are referred to the program but can also self refer, according to Sullivan, adding he can also help people apply for MassHealth to become eligible.
"We also have a special interest in helping out those parents who have provided a home for their disabled adult son or daughter and have a need to make plans as they have aged themselves," he added.
Sullivan stressed that opening up a room in one's home to a disabled person can be an "immensely rewarding and satisfying situation for a person who wants to make a difference in the world."
At press time, Sullivan has four individuals he hopes to place in new homes soon.
For more information on the home share program, contact Sullivan at (413) 536-4200 or visit www.communityenterprises.com.
"We are open to working with anyone who comes to our door," he added.