Every one of us has a journey. For Alex and David, their journey began in Russia. They were young, 2 and 3, when they were taken from their home due to neglect and abuse and placed for eligibility to be adopted.
In late 2000, Lara and Dave Sweda of St. Charles began thinking about adopting. They had two biological daughters, Liz, 13, and Natalie, 12. They both wanted to adopt older kids and wanted to keep a family together if at all possible. Dave is half Russian and half Slovak, so they began searching for Russian adoptions.
It took 5 ½ months from beginning to end, and on April 19, 2001, Alex and David came home with Lara and Dave. “We knew they would have some difficulties, because we do have their background information,” Lara said. Each has multiple diagnosis – most caused by alcohol and malnutrition their birth mother partook in while pregnant.
They were tested by Missouri Department of Mental Health’s St. Louis Tri-County Regional Office. They had many case workers and were placed on many waiting lists, but nothing was happening. Lara and Dave decided they needed to advocate for their boys and tried finding services. One day Lara was at the Regional Office and saw a flyer for a soccer camp, for youth under 12, to be held at Family Support Services (Community Living’s Family Center before the 2010 merge). Alex was 5 and David was 3. “The boys love soccer, so we signed them up,” Lara said. “This opened up everything to us in small doses. Community Living was our lifeline to the outside world.”
The boys didn’t qualify for Social Opportunities and Recreation (SOAR) services (due to age) until six years later; however, they eventually got an amazing case worker and the family received funding for Respite, learned more information about the Developmental Disabilities Resource Board of St. Charles County and recreation services, and were placed on a waiting list for the SOAR program. When the boys got a little older, other kids around them didn’t pay any attention to them unless they were being teased. “Kids can be cruel sometimes,” Lara said. “Once we started learning about services, we wanted our boys to have friends, to meet other kids like them and wanted them to have the opportunity to do things outside the home.”
Today, Alex is 17 and will be a senior at St. Charles High School, and David is 16 and will be a sophomore at St. Charles West High School. Although St. Charles West is the family’s school by district lines, St. Charles offers the school to work program for Alex. Other than attending different schools, the brothers spend a lot of time together. They attend Community Living’s after-school program, summer camp and the Respite Center together.
They also use In-Home Respite, where Liz, the oldest sister, is qualified to be a respite provider for the family. “Usually there aren’t babysitters for older kids,” Lara said. “We have also met some great people through Community Living that we trust and will also provide respite to our boys.”
Coming to Community Living has opened many opportunities for the family. “This place has given them the chance to be with other kids and be successful,” Lara said. “They can do things that my husband and I are unable to do with them. I’m not sure where we would be without Community Living.”
Other opportunities they have found are the STEP program, where they both started their first job in the summer of 2015. Alex works for St. Charles City Hall and David works for St. Joseph Health Center. “We spend a lot of time together, so it’s good to spend time away from each other,” David said. “It gives me a break and it gives Alex a break.”
Not only do they enjoy breaks from each other, they also enjoy the time away from home when they go to the Respite Center. “It’s like a mini vacation,” David said. “It’s a place I can go and just hang out and give my mom and dad a break. I can watch TV, eat and not worry about chores at home.” Both brothers have a favorite room. Alex likes the “Astronaut/space” room and David likes the “Submarine” room.
Both are artistic and athletic. David enjoys graffiti art and Alex enjoys painting and drawing. They both enjoy baseball, basketball and soccer. They also, enjoy April 19. This is their family holiday, which they call “Coming Home to America.” The family always goes out to eat and then they do a special activity as a family. They will watch the coming home video and look at pictures. “It’s a really happy day for us,” David said. “Back then I didn’t know what was going on, but in my heart I knew I was going to a better place. And, that I was going to get more in life than I was having.” Alex agrees fully with his brother, but he also added, “It’s a day I get to spend time with my family and tell them how much I care about them. Just hanging out with my mom and dad is the best thing for me.”
Their journey is far from over, but each one agrees Community Living is a big part of it. “This place is a chance for me to stay well and healthy and become like everyone else,” Alex said. “The staff is very helpful and they are all my favorite.” David says he benefits from Community Living because he realizes he is not alone. “I’m not the only one with a disability,” David said. “I know people going through the same thing as me. It’s a place I know that I can get help when I need it and I’m safe.”