Linda Clark, 65, and Joyce Howard, 73, have been roommates for over 40 years. Sitting side by side Tuesday in an adult activities room at ARC of Northeast Indiana the two women were intent on the task at hand, coloring pumpkins. By their calm demeanor and content expressions one would never know the two had only been living in Fort Wayne for a few short weeks.
The friends are just two from a group of 53 people who came to live in Fort Wayne when the group homes they were living in, under Easter Seals ARC of Northwest Indiana, were closed by the Indiana Department of Health. Citing inadequate nursing services at the group homes, 90 people were left without living spaces, and 53 of those were taken in by Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana.
The local nonprofit organization provides services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs and their families have equal opportunities in their communities.
Initially, Donna Elbrecht, president/CEO at Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana, said the agency assumed some of the 53 would return to the Gary area when new living arrangements could be made. But after a visit last week from family members it now seems 40-50 of the group will be staying right here. Elbrecht said the families were so pleased with their loved ones' new living arrangements they felt comfortable with having them stay here. Currently the new clients are living in IPFW housing, but over the new few months they will be transitioned into small-group situation houses, four clients each, or into local apartments.
ARC of Northeast Indiana has been stretching to accommodate their new clients with staff putting in overtime to make sure adequate staffing is available. So far they have held two job fairs to hire 50 more people and last week they were busy training some of these new hires. Elbrecht said they would hire additional personnel, too. They like to have staff numbers so there is one staffer for every four clients.
Elbrecht said they have several board members at IPFW and used the housing facilities at the university a few years ago to house eight clients after a house fire. When the sudden need arose in Gary they asked IPFW if it would have space available for temporary housing, and it did.
In one day ARC of Northeast Indiana took three buses to Gary, planning the routes for each bus so they could stop at 17 group homes to pick up their new clients and then take them to Fort Wayne. Elbrecht said most of the clients seemed excited about the move, and the staff kept them busy with activities on the bus.
Once moved to Fort Wayne, Arc went about introducing them to their other clients. Jessica McBride, director of director of community support, held a mixer the first week so everyone could become acquainted. Now several weeks later it is hard to tell the old clientele from the new.
Clark and Howard are happy to continue being roommates and so far they have nothing but good things to say about their new living arrangements.
Elbrecht said she is grateful for the way her staff and the medical community in Fort Wayne has embraced the newcomers.
“We are lucky to have people with compassion and heart,” Elbrecht said.
Donna Sanders, 50, Clark's cousin, said she visited her last week and found Clark in great spirits.
“She can't speak for herself, so I must advocate for her. I was very pleased with what I saw here,” Sanders said.
Although Sanders didn't have a problem with the care that Clark had been receiving in her Merrillville group home, she said there was a high turnover with the group home parents, staff who oversee the home, and she felt they could have been doing more for her cousin. She also said she likes the many opportunities and services that Arc of Northeast Indiana can offer Clark. She took photos of Clark and her new living condition and showed them to Clark's mother, Sally Clark, 97, who were very pleased by what she saw.