A great family lives at 20th Avenue, a group home operated by Semiahmoo House Society. It’s the place where Donna, Gary, Ron, Terri and Sadie call home. It’s also the place where Barb, Christina, Kathy, Kuldeep, Lori, Raniel, Sarin, Leona, and Susan, the members of the staff, call their second home.
It’s 3:30 on a clear cool Thursday afternoon early in January. Christina takes me to the great room and offers me tea and cookies. She’s very hospitable.
The kitchen is warm and the air is infused with the cooking fumes from the meal that Barb is cooking. On the menu tonight are pork chops, brown rice and a mixture of vegetables. “We make sure that they get a good balanced meal with plenty of vegetables”, says Barb.
There is another lady named Barb at the house, Barbara Coad, the Program Manager. Barbara has a busy schedule; she manages another group home as well. She has been with Semiahmoo House Society for 14 years, but she has been at 20th Avenue for just over a year. “We have an incredible staff team here”, she says. “Everyone is so nice—too nice—and so warm. They know what they’re doing and they get along well. You don’t get this kind of harmony everywhere.”
Donna is quietly sitting in her comfy chair. The others have gone to the dance and choir that is held at The Treehouse every Thursday, but her interests lay in other areas. Donna enjoys quiet activities like going to the park, the beach, for tea and to her favourite restaurants. She has the greatest smile and shows it when she’s out for lunch. Barbara credits the staff for creating a trusting and secure environment for Donna over the years, allowing her to express what she likes to do.
Gary gets out of his room full of energy. As he approaches the group, he recites lyrics of his favourite songs and attempts to engage the staff in signing in unison. As he does that, he taps people on the shoulder or points toward them as their cue to sign. He has an amazing memory for song lyrics ranging from Sesame Street to the Beatles and Anne Murray. He can carry a tune too.
Christina helps Ron sit in his swivel chair which allows him to turn 360 degrees and keep track of everyone in the great room. He’s handsome and charming as he acknowledges the ladies in the room. “He’s a big flirt”, muses Barbara. Then, he turns his chair toward the television to watch the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ron also enjoys watching sports. He likes going out to eat sushi and spicy food. He looks forward to the dance and choir on Thursdays, looking out for Gary through the crowd.
Terri and Kathy return from a shopping trip. Terri is holding a shopping bag and she can’t wait to show us her new outfit. “She wants to look good for the New Year celebration at the Pink Palace next week”, explains Kathy. Terri proudly pulls out a feminine flowing pink top that she plans to wear over beautiful new black pants with glitter strategically placed on the pockets. She also has a delicate black sweater to complete the outfit. She will look fabulous!
As the family is talking fashion, I’m told the big debate is whether or not Donna should wear her hair up for the event. Christina said: “It probably won’t matter, as she will pull out all the barrettes at some point.”
As we speak, Gary goes to the counter and makes himself a cup of coffee. He’s probably not too interested in the topic of girly fashion. “Gary is a pretty cool guy who likes to say cool guy things”, observes Barbara.
Sadie is the canine member of the family. She came with Terri 5 years ago. Shortly after her arrival, Sadie had an accident and injured her leg. Understanding the importance of Sadie to Terri and the rest of the family, Semiahmoo House Society accessed some funds to provide for the care that the canine friend needed. She has fully recovered. Sadie is like any other members of the family. She has her own care plan and binder to make sure that her health is optimal.
It’s dinner time, but before leaving I ask the residents and staff if I can shoot a few pictures. Except for Gary, everyone is posing. Gary has declined to have his picture taken, a decision that we all respect.
At the end, all the staff nods when Barb says: “We treat them like family. They are our brothers, sisters, daughters and sons.” Barbara adds: “Some of them have a great extended family. But for the others, we are the family connection they have: the people who care about them. We love them!”
As I leave, I think to myself: “Here’s another amazing household in the Semi family.” The residents with the support of the staff get to be part of a nucleus family, do the things they enjoy and live their lives.
By Louise Tremblay, The Semiahmoo Foundation