Sure, it was Larry’s need for a long-term residence that sparked the dreaming and planning several years ago. Larry is a member of Elm Street Mennonite Church in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. He is 63 years old and has lived with quadriplegia for forty-five years following a traumatic brain injury at age 17. His cognitive functions were not affected, and he has lived at his parent’s home farm all his life.
Concerned friends at Elm Street Mennonite and Larry, too, wondered how long Larry’s parents, a couple in their mid-eighties, could continue to physically provide care for their son. It was becoming an ever-more urgent question. Friends in the church who cared about Larry and his parents knew that depending on government funding for a solution might not comprehensively care for Larry's needs. Also, Larry wanted to stay within his community.
There was a nursing home in the area that provided good care for the elderly, but what about people who require assistance but are not elderly, people like Larry? Elm Street friends began praying for guidance, wisdom, and obedience to know how to support Larry into the future. Their prayerful seeking not only provided an answer for Larry, but for many others with disabilities living within the collection of conservative Anabaptist churches in Lebanon County.
A committee was formed by three church conferences to discuss plausible solutions. In the state of Pennsylvania, up to three people can live in a house with caregivers, and the home would still be considered a private residence. With a fourth resident, the house would be considered a "group home" and would then be subject to state inspections and licensing. The committee decided to move ahead with the construction of a home that could support three residents who required care. With that, the traditional Mennonite reputation for community care and organizing kicked into gear! A house was purchased, renovated, furnished, and made ready to open in August of 2016.
Race Street House includes a four-room apartment upstairs for an individual or couple to live and serve as house-parents for the home. However, initially, no one could be found to take on the job. Personal inquiries and church bulletin announcements failed to produce an interested couple by September when Larry was ready and eager to move in. Considerable time and funding had been invested in this beautiful house, but finding staff proved frustrating.
During this same time period, I was also faced with a frustrating situation. I lost a job working with people with disabilities that I loved, and it didn’t make sense to me why. The Larry’s Place search committee and I were not yet connected, but we were both asking the Lord the same question, “Why would you take me this far and then bring it all to a stop?”
At my interview the answer became clear. God had the timing figured out perfectly. The skills that I had learned working for a large group home ministry had equipped me well for the running of this house. Raising seven children also taught me a few tricks! Even the smattering of counselor training that I have would prove to come in handy. In retrospect, we all see evidence that the Lord’s hand has been on this project every step of the way. I moved in on September 26th, 2016, and our first resident, Larry, moved on October 3rd.
The house is completely wheelchair accessible on the first floor, where the residents live.
Accessible kitchen at Race Street House
Spacious dining room at Race Street House
Each resident has a large bedroom with a quarter of the room sectioned off by a ceiling-mounted shower curtain. This bathroom area is tiled with an adjustable shower head mounted in one corner (and of course a drain in the floor) and a commode. The curtains can close the area off or be opened for accessibility and support. The rest of the room is furnished individually.
Larry’s room has a special ceiling lift unit with tracking that allows him to move to anywhere in the room. Larry is a farmer at heart, and he loves the wide-open spaces, so he has a small porch area outside his room where he can enjoy a view of grazing cattle. His wheelchair has a remote doorbell button to summon assistance as needed. And, he has a "sip and puff" unit on his bed to call at night.
Laura joined the home in November needing accessible housing and some assistance with her personal care. Laura's remote doorbell has a different tune to call staff if she needs anything. We are working setting up a bird sanctuary outside her bedroom window, as she is an avid bird watcher.
Edith came to us just before Christmas, to spend some time regaining her strength after a hospitalization and in reliance upon on a wheelchair. Her own home is not wheelchair-friendly. When she is able to move home, a new couple will move in. The husband has provided care to his wife with disabilities and will continue to do so, but now without the burden of keeping up with housekeeping responsibilities. And on we grow!
We employ seven part-time caregivers. Caregivers come to the house for the peak busy times morning and evening, and I take care of the rest. Family members come in and out as much as they wish, and our house is lively with company.
Church groups come frequently to sing to the residents, and giving tours is a common part of my job as the curious community drops by to see the house. We welcome all these visitors, and remain open to direction that comes from the hand of the Lord.
Elizabeth Vendley is the House Manager at Race Street House. She is also serving as ADN's Accessibility Coordinator for MCUSA Convention in Orlando this summer.