Advocate Homes help mentally-disabled learn independent living

September 07, 2004|HERB BROCK

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on the growing need in Kentucky for more community-based residential and support programs for mentally-disabled people and the efforts of a Danville agency, Advocate Homes, to meet that need. The story on Sunday gave an overview of a statewide problem and how the Danville agency is attempting to solve it.

Hazel Wooten was driving her nephew, Lennie Giles, to a house in Junction City, a modest but modern abode that was going to be Giles' new home. She was anxious because Lennie had never lived on his own before.

As they pulled up to the house, Giles quickly calmed his aunt's nerves.

"My house!" "My house!" Giles said excitedly as if he had just sat down in front of a Christmas tree and had opened a box containing his dream gift.

Gail Manning was accompanied by her younger brother, Rick Betz, on a round of errands in Danville. When they drove by McDonald's, Betz urged her sister to pull in the lot. But he was looking for more than a Big Mac.


"I wanna work here! I'm gonna work here some day, yes I am!" Betz told his older sister, repeating a refrain he utters every time they pass by a McDonald's.

Wanting to live in a nice but not particularly large house and wanting to work at a fast-food restaurant don't seem like highly ambitious goals for two middle-aged men. But for the 44-year-old Giles and the 45-year-old Betz, they are big dreams that they are pursuing with the same dedication as a someone going after a mansion and the same drive of someone working hard to become a CEO of a major corporation.

"Lennie may be 44, but life is much simpler for him than it is for most people his age," said Wooten. "What is no big deal for most middle-aged people is a big deal to Lennie, and living in a house he can call his own is really a big deal."

Getting his very own paycheck is just as big a deal for Betz. While he waits to land his dream job at McDonald's, he currently is drawing a check from his work at a special workshop. The check is small but his chest gets big every time he receives it.

"Rick swells with pride each time he gets paid," said Manning. "That paycheck is worth a million dollars to him."

And the program that is developing the pride in both men is worth at least that much to Manning and Wooten.

Making their own choices, setting their own goals

Their relatives are participants in the Advocate Homes' residential program, which not only provides a small group home where they can live with supervision but a whole array of services that develop independent living skills, both in their new homes and also in the community. And they have learned that a big part of living independently is making their own choices and setting their own goals.

According to their relatives, both Giles and Betz are enjoying their new lives - especially the part where they get to help plan them. "It was fairly easy for Lennie to make the transition (to an Advocate Homes' house in Perryville)," said Wooten. "He's very outgoing, He never meets a stranger."

Giles, who grew up in Hazard, had been living for the last four years with Wooten. He moved into the Boyle County home of his aunt following the deaths of his parents.

"He lives with two other people in his house - and I emphasize his house," Wooten said with a laugh. "And he loves it. Oh, he comes to my home to visit, and his cousins visit him. But he's always anxious to get back to his house.

"There's such a sense of pride he is getting from living on his own. Even though the house is staffed 24 hours a day and there is supervision, he sees himself as being independent."

Giles also is "very proud of his paycheck," said Wooten. He works at Pioneer Vocational-Industrial Services.

In addition to his job, Giles has other another major duty - trying to achieve some goals he set for himself.

"He's trying to learn to identify different denominations of money and how to count money," Wooten said. "He also is learning how to tell time.

"Overall, his biggest goal is learning how to make his own choices instead of having me or some staff member make them for him. That's the key to independent living."

The transition to a small group home would appear to be much different and perhaps more difficult for Betz than for Giles. While Giles had lived mainly in family homes most of his life that are similar in size and atmosphere of his new Perryville home, Betz had lived mostly in an institutionalized setting from the time he was 9 years old.

Except for spending a small amount of time in his parents' home, Betz lived in an institution in Frankfort, then in a campus setting at Oakwood in Somerset and then a small group home in Lexington, Manning said.

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