In this Q&A-style interview, Anthony Lerno sat down with home provider, Patty, to discuss the impact that participating in the LifeShare program has had on her life. LifeShare is a program that allows participants to welcome into their home someone with developmental disabilities, and to provide a safe and welcoming living environment that fosters a sense of belonging. The often heard phrase from LifeShare is “a place in your heart, a place in your home.”
Q: What attracted you to LifeShare?
I found out about it through a friend. Through church we had a singles potluck dinner, because singles love potluck dinner, and she brought her LifeShare partner. That’s where I heard about the program.
I was a lab technologist for many, many years. I worked at the hospital down the road for 32 years and I was coming to retirement. I was worried about retirement because I need structure in life. When I’m just cooking for myself, I don’t cook well. If I’m cooking for someone else, I make healthier meals. So I thought, well, that would work. So before I retired I applied to the program, and went through the process of being accepted into the program.
I did a little bit of respite before I was matched up with someone. It took a year or so before we found a good match for me. Then Joanne came. Joanne was the perfect match because we like a lot of the same things. We like music and we like to travel. She’s such a sweetheart. Our meetings went really well. Joanne loves the dogs, so she immediately felt comfortable. She liked coming and petting the dogs. It’s worked out really, really well and Joanne seems so happy here.
Q: How many years has it been that you’ve been in LifeShare?
Q: How do you balance LifeShare and your personal life?
I had a really bad year in 2020, as everyone did. I had to leave at least four times that year. And one time I had to go to the [United] States and get my dad and then I had to quarantine, so I was away for three or four weeks. But it’s worked out really well, because Joanne’s sister will take over any time. Now that her sister is retired, she’s even more available.
Joanne is quite independent. I can leave her for a good portion of the day, she uses the microwave to heat up her lunch. I just let her know there is lunch in the fridge if I’m not going to be there. She’ll heat it up and she’s fine with it. So that gives me flexibility and I can do things on the side.
I find it very easy to balance. I do have a lot on the go. I volunteer a lot at the church. But Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, she’s gone all day for the [Crossing All Bridges] program. And Tuesday, generally Alicia [Community Living Brant support worker] comes and picks her up. On those days I have a rest day and then we’ll do some things on the weekend. But I find that she’s perfectly happy being on her own. If I’m away for hours she’s perfectly happy. If I’m gonna be gone a little bit longer maybe she’ll go spend some time at her sister’s as well.
I’ve had several family emergencies, as I said, over the last few years, where I’ve had to leave in a hurry, but I haven’t had any issues. It’s worked perfectly for me. I just factor that into my schedule.
We have our routine. We get up in the morning and have breakfast and walk the dogs, it just works.
It’s a rewarding experience. I think it’s a win-win. It’s a commitment, for sure, but it’s a very enjoyable commitment. We have a good time together.
Q: Looking back from when Joanne first moved in with you, how has your relationship changed?
It’s always been good. She loves to help and she’s always really happy. She gets upset sometimes when she knows I’m going away. Or she gets an upset stomach because it’s breaking her routine. She really likes it here. She loves the dogs and she gets more upset about leaving the dogs. But she’s quite easy to have.
Q: When you are together, what are some fun things that you do together as roommates?
Our main thing together is walking the dogs every day. In the nicer weather she loves to go to the dog park and take the dogs. I’m going to be ordering some tickets to the theatre, because we love to go to musicals. My son, his girlfriend, and my niece, we love to go to the theatre and we’ll all go out to dinner and Joanne loves to go.
She loves to come to my concerts. She really enjoys it and we’ll go to things sometimes at Sanderson Centre. We went to a Beatles reenactment concert. We went to see Chuck Berry. Of course the last few years have been a little bit different, it’s been a little harder.
Another thing she loves to do in the summer is go to the waterpark. We would get a season’s pass to the waterpark. I like to just sit in the shade and she loves to go around the lazy river, get herself in a tube and just float around. The nice thing about getting a season’s pass is we can go for as long as she wants and I’ll sit in the shade and read a book and wave to her as she goes by. I quite enjoy doing that and sometimes if it’s hot enough I’ll get in and float around.
She likes to watch movies but gets a little restless. She might not make it through a whole movie. She does like to spend a fair bit of time in her room. She needs to have her quiet time. She can get overstimulated, especially if I have company or something like that. It’s sometimes a lot for her. I had a big birthday party for my Dad, and we had it here. We had a sing along, we had wordbooks and everything but you could hear her from upstairs singing along with it.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Joanne living here with you?
She’s got such good nature. She’s always willing to help you. She’s got her own things, she likes to empty the dishwasher and she brings the laundry down and then she brings it all up and sorts it and puts it away. She is definitely part of our family. She blends in very nicely.
My son and I have a different last name because when I split up I went back to my maiden name and then my niece has a different name. We say we’re the odd family with all different names but we’re a family. And Joanne is definitely part of our family. She’s accepted into our family. She’s just a sweetheart.
One thing she likes about the dogs is that she can order them around. When we’re eating dinner, they have to sit on the carpet and if they get up, boy, she’s there saying, “Oscar! Carpet!”
Q: Are there things in community that both you and Joanne are connected to together?
Our big connection is music and our love for dogs. And that’s another thing we get in the community: the dog park. She loves to go and interact with the different dogs. She’ll just sit on a bench and just watch them and be perfectly happy.
There’s a theatre, it’s about a three hour drive, and we’ll go up there for the day and do theatre and then walk around the beach and go out for dinner. We go down to Port Dover and sometimes we’ll take the dogs and we like to walk along the beach and have some perch. We’ll do a day like that in the summertime.
Q: Every relationship, regardless of what that relationship looks like, has challenges. What are some challenges that both you and Joanne face together?
She’s had health issues, she’s had a lot of stomach issues. She gets sick for a lot of different reasons. Sorting out the stomach issues and all the different things has been a challenge, but we have managed. Alicia helps, and her sister helps with appointments. We’ve sorted a lot of things out and she’s doing much, much better now.
Some of the issues are that if I have to go somewhere and she’s going to go to her sister’s or somewhere and she decides she doesn’t want to go, she’ll decide she’s sick. Sometimes I’m not sure if she’s really sick or she just doesn’t feel like doing something. And it’s kind of distinguishing what’s real and what’s not real and I’ve learned a lot over the years.
Q: Has your experience living with Joanne changed your perspective of people living with developmental disabilities?
It has. It was interesting to see her love of learning and she’s always interested in learning more. She’s really intelligent. She reads and she writes and she’s very good at reading, she’ll read books upstairs. She’s really done well with that kind of thing and she can print very well. And she has good spelling. She’s amazing.
Q: Why would you recommend someone become a LifeShare provider?
It’s a rewarding experience. I think it’s a win-win. It’s a commitment, for sure, but it’s a very enjoyable commitment. We have a good time together. I think it’s a really rewarding experience for people to realize, and you learn a lot about the heart. It’s been an amazing experience.
Q: What is one of your favourite memories of living with Joanne?
When I take her to a play and see the expression on her face. The joy and contentment. We’ve been to so many different ones where I look at her and there’s just pure joy. It makes you feel so happy that she’s experiencing that and makes your experience even better.
Lead photo cutline: Anthony Lerno sits with Patty and Joanne at a flag raising event in Brantford.
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