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Housing option provides family setting for adults with disabilities

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Angie Phillips
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Angie Phillips (left) with her resident, Lois, on a trip to a museum in Oakland, Maryland.

In a follow-up to our August report on group homes for adults with developmental disabilities closing, WMRA's Randi B. Hagi spoke with a local resident who's opened her own home to a client.

One day in late September, I sat at the kitchen table in Angie Phillips' house outside of Scottsville while she flipped through a photo album.

ANGIE PHILLIPS: And then, back in the spring, we had a birthday party for Lois. … We had a petting zoo … horses and donkeys and chickens and rabbits. Lois very much loves farm animals.

Lois is a 63-year-old woman who lives with the Phillips family.

PHILLIPS: She likes to travel and go places with us. Like I said, we went to the rodeo. … That woman knows the words to every song there is – especially country songs. She sings, and loves to ride in the car with the radio on, and she knows who is singing it and the name and the words.

Phillips is a sponsored residential provider – meaning she's gone through a licensing process and opened up her home to someone with developmental disabilities. She learned about this type of housing service from her mother, who was a provider for 11 years. That's who Lois lived with before coming to the Phillips' home in April of this year.

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Randi B. Hagi
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Angie Phillips at her home in Scottsville.

PHILLIPS: When Lois lived with my Mom, I was actually her backup worker, meaning, when my Mom and Dad weren't available, then I was her caregiver at that time. And to do that, you just have to take a few classes, get some training.

That includes classes in human rights, CPR, first aid, and administering medications. All of this is overseen by the organization Wall Residences, which provides housing and support to people with developmental disabilities and long-term mental health diagnoses across the state. Phillips decided to become a provider herself after her father became ill and her mother could no longer care for her two residents. She said the approval process involves a number of house inspections.

PHILLIPS: It's a lot of simple things, like to make sure you have working smoke detectors, to make sure that your water temperature is safe for your individual, to make sure that your well or city water has been tested, things like that. Just to make sure that your home is in good repair, and that it's safe for an individual to come live with you.

She took me on a tour of her home, through a living room with fall-themed decor and Pacman arcade games, and up to Lois's room.

PHILLIPS: So she has her own space and her own room, so she has her own bathroom, all those good things. [door opening] And then – let me turn on the light – she has a room that's decorated with furniture that she purchased on her own, and things that she likes. She likes horses. She has lots of horse decorations! She loves John Wayne.

The Phillips' home is one of almost 400 operating under Wall Residences.

ALEX JACKSON: And we're supporting almost 620 people across Virginia.

Alex Jackson is the organization's admissions director.

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Alex Jackson
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Alex Jackson is the admissions director for Wall Residences.

JACKSON: The thing with our agency, and this is something we really pride ourselves on, and what myself and our admissions staff are responsible for, is working to carefully match the individual to the families. … That's what actually ensures the success of services. I started with the agency in 2008, and there are people that I placed in 2008 and 09 who are still in the same home.

He said that about 85% of the housing they offer is through the sponsored residential provider format. Sponsors, like Phillips, file daily and weekly reports with Wall on how the person living with them is doing. Wall also oversees some small group homes, and provides support services to folks with disabilities who live on their own or with family.

JACKSON: So what we're struggling with right now … is we are having trouble finding qualified families. … It is difficult in certain parts of Virginia, finding interested families. So, Charlottesville, for example.

You may remember a story we did in August about a woman who had to be moved from Charlottesville to Lynchburg because of a lack of housing options. Wall Residences supervises her new home.

JACKSON: We are looking for folks that have homes that are accessible, or that could be made accessible with some relatively minor modifications, like maybe a ramp up to the front porch.

I asked Phillips what qualities she thought made a good caregiver.

PHILLIPS: You have to be attentive. You have to make sure that you have the time in your life for this person, to make sure their needs and wants are met.

Phillips is a mother of two young adults and was a teacher for 22 years – both experiences that she draws on now as a provider. She noted that some individuals stay at the provider's home during the day, whereas others, like Lois, go to a day program, where she gets to exercise, do karaoke, and deliver Meals on Wheels throughout the community.

PHILLIPS: This is not just like, per say, a 'job.' This is not a nine-to-five job. It's a 24 hours a day, seven days a week kind of thing, just like if it was a member of your family. It's like teaching – you don't do it for the money. You do it because of the changes you see in the individuals, and helping to enrich their lives, and helping them to become the individuals that they want to be.

For Lois, that means dressing up as the television chef 'The Pioneer Woman' to go to a Halloween party with Phillips later this month.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.