Open your heart and your Springfield home

Host home program helps adults with disabilities

"He's more independent," says host home provider Nigel Tiller, Sr., of Springfield, of the young man who lives with him. "He feels like he has somewhere he belongs."

Now in its 70th year of assisting and supporting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Peoria-based EP!C is looking for host homes in the Springfield area. Host home providers typically do not have any previous experience in working with people with disabilities, but do usually have an interest in helping others. "Anyone can be a host home provider," states director of marketing Ashley Schreck, "any community member willing to open their heart and home to a person with a cognitive difference."

A host home provider is matched with an individual with disabilities according to likes and similar ideals, and is given training and support in assisting the individual placed in their home. Individuals typically either go to a day school or work, with supplemental social outings provided by EP!C. Host home providers may work outside the home full time or part time, or may not work outside the home at all. They run the gamut of age, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. A yearly untaxed stipend, similar to foster home income, is given to providers in the range of $25,000-$65,000, as well as 20 hours of monthly respite and 14 annual paid vacation days.

As EP!C community options recruiter Hilary Charlet states, "Some individuals live in their host home as a steppingstone to get their own place." She said this transitional independence allows an individual to work on their independent living and other skills with their host home provider.

"The provider does not need to have eyes on them 24/7," says Charlet, noting that individuals lead active lives of their own, which outside of work or school may involve romantic partners, interests and hobbies, and friends and family. She says 87% of individuals have family support living within 60 miles of their host home provider.

Tiller learned of the program thorugh his work in the recording studio at Individual Advocacy Group, which offers a day school for people with disabilities. He has been a host home provider since February. A typical day for Tiller includes helping his roommate with his morning hygiene routine, sharing breakfast and cleaning his room before they are off running errands.

Tiller takes him to work at his part-time restaurant job, after which they usually hit the gym together. After an evening meal, they may watch television or talk politics but, Tiller notes, "He spends a lot of time on the phone talking to his girlfriend."

When the individual was first placed with him, Tiller notes that he was quiet and reserved and didn't really seem to trust anyone.

"Over time, he's gotten more comfortable and able to talk about his goals," which include living on his own in three to four years. Until then, Tiller will provide support in helping the individual become skilled with hygiene and finances.

Tiller says the program has been as important to him as the individual who was placed with him. "This allows me to help someone, and also gives me experience in working with individuals in my home," explaining that he hopes one day to open his own group home for individuals with disabilities.

Schreck remarks that the two most important things the program can give to individuals is more control and more independence, including the opportunity to establish relationships outside the family. Schreck notes there is a wide range of abilities for individuals in the program with some needing only basic assistance with tasks like grocery shopping or budgeting, and others needing more assistance with day-to-day care. Stipends reflect the level of need, and host home providers are matched with those who are at a level of assistance they are comfortable providing.

In addition to host homes, EP!C is also looking for individuals with disabilities who may be interested in participating in the program, which is funded through the Medicaid Waiver Program at no cost to the individual.

EP!C currently coordinates 60 host homes over a 12-county area in central Illinois, supporting 80 people, with a goal of expanding the program to as many host home providers and individuals as possible. With the pandemic wreaking havoc on established employment, Charlet emphasizes that becoming a host home can provide a stable income during uncertain times.

"These are not jobs that are going away," says Charlet. "This makes our community stronger as a whole."

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