Michael’s niece Erin had a feeling her uncle was going to love his new home before he even moved in. While he was still on the waitlist, the staff planned a housewarming party for him. “It was such a welcoming environment from day one,” she said.
Because of his disability, age, and medical needs, Michael can’t live on his own. “He needs 24-hour care and is very reliant on others,” Erin said. Her parents became Michael’s guardians when his own parents passed away and Erin remembers spending a lot of time with Michael when she lived in the St. Louis area. She said she hates running errands alone, so she’d regularly pick Michael up and take him with her. He also used to come over for family dinners. “He’s a very important part of our family.”
Over the years, Community Living’s Westside House has not only become Michael’s home, but his housemates and staff have become his family, too. When her parents moved to Des Moines, Iowa, they had to make the choice to relocate Michael or let him stay at home in St. Charles. “When my parents moved from St. Louis, they looked into bringing Michael with them, but it was really hard.” She said there was no guarantee of an organization like Community Living in Iowa, he might not receive the funding he does in Missouri, his age would make it a difficult move, and he already had a long-established relationship with his medical team. But what helped the family make the decision to let Michael stay was knowing that he was happy in his house here. “He was so settled and he didn’t want to move. He had his family there,” she said. “He has so little agency in his life so for him to be able to say ‘No, I want to stay here. This is my home and my family,’ in the way that Michael can communicate that, it was important for us to recognize that and make it work.”
Erin no longer lives in Missouri, but makes it a point to Facetime Michael often. “His home is his family and that’s evident when I call,” she said. She’s happy he and his housemates are able to live in a place where he can live a normal life. “Their lives have value and dignity and meaning, and they need to realize their dreams and goals, too, and I’m grateful that places like Community Living exist to provide that for them.”
“They are members of the community just like all the rest of us. That’s just one more reason to keep supporting an organization that is able to give Michael his safe space that feels like home to him.”
Although Erin had made donations in the past, she decided to contribute to Community Living on a more regular basis in recent years. “The pandemic opened my eyes,” she said. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” She now makes a monthly gift to help people like Michael turn their houses into homes. Her advice to others is to “put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s receiving services” and consider a loved one living somewhere with home-cooked meals and birthday celebrations instead of an institution. “They are members of the community just like all the rest of us. That’s just one more reason to keep supporting an organization that is able to give Michael his safe space that feels like home to him.”