Heartspring has always been dedicated to helping children become more independent. Since 1998, this has always been accomplished in the six group homes on Heartspring’s 37-acre campus. However, in February 2010, Heartspring opened its first group home set in a residential neighborhood.
According to Paul Faber, executive vice president of operations, Heartspring continues to be innovative in its special education methods and this is why a new group home has been implemented for students. “This new program is an enhancement of our Heartspring program,” he said.
The goal of the new group home is to help older students transition to future placements or adult homes. “Heartspring has been talking about opening this type of setting for our students for a long time,” said Faber. “The opportunity presented itself when we needed to help additional families that needed a placement for their child and we are at capacity,” he added.
Staff members at Heartspring agreed that some current students who are getting closer to transitioning from the program would benefit from a more “adult” setting. This new group home is not on Heartspring’s campus, but is a duplex located less than five miles away.
In this new home, Group Home 7 (G7), three students are learning to be more independent as staff implement goals that can be carried over once they transition from Heartspring. Students are learning even more life skills such as community integration and meal preparation. In addition, each student continues to focus on other daily living skills including cleaning, laundry and other daily chores. All of these skills are occurring with less prompting from staff. The students are helping prepare their evening meal, as well as weekend meals. Staff members encourage the students in G7 to make decisions about their meals, work with them to prepare the shopping list and take them shopping for the groceries. Students in G7 are also learning to work together to clean the kitchen following their meals. “The students are more willing to do things for themselves instead of sitting back and waiting to be served,” said Dana Trombley, G7 home supervisor.
In most adult group homes there is more leisure and recreational time, so G7 students are learning to be more independent with their choices. They are also able to spend more time on community outings, like eating out on Thursdays. “They really enjoy going out to eat,” said Trombley.
This home also allows Heartspring students to live in a smaller and quieter group setting with less intensive staffing and less distractions. “It is more of a home environment and the students are learning more about what life can be like,” said Seth Nesmith, director of residential services. Trombley added, “We have been able to give the students the same opportunities they had in their group home, but with the smaller setting at G7 the students are learning and more willing to do for themselves.”
The students living in Heartspring’s new group home tell their teachers and staff that they like their new home. “I like my new bedroom and going to the movies,” said Nick, one of the students who lives in G7. “I also like it because it’s quieter.” Brady said he likes to cook cookies and Melanie is enjoying her new bed and attending church. The students love to have visitors so they can show off their house. The staff in G7 also sees growth in the students’ independence and social skills. “I love seeing the students more relaxed and willing to learn,” said Trombley. “ Overall they seem more relaxed and happy.”