Shared Living Spaces Program expanding to Franklin County

  • Megan Therrien, pictured at left with her son and the couple she shares her home with, has been a provider through the Shared Living Spaces Program for six years. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2022 6:01:49 PM
Modified: 2/22/2022 6:01:26 PM

When an elderly couple returned home to their apartment after a period of health problems, they knew they needed more assistance.

“A group home would not have been the best option for them to live as a married couple,” said Megan Therrien, who knew the couple through her job as an outreach worker for the Springfield-based Mental Health Association. “They were in a temporary shared living program … and when they returned back to their apartment, they didn’t want to be alone anymore.”

Therrien, a resident of Chicopee, was familiar with the Shared Living Spaces Program offered by the Mental Health Association, so she approached her supervisor about becoming a provider.

That was six years ago, she said, and in that time, the couple has become like family.

“It took a little bit of time to get used to living with people,” Therrien said. “But I’d say after the first six months, it became second nature. It became like us being a family, a regular household. … I always have someone here to talk with or have dinner with.”

Shared Living Spaces — a program for individuals served by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, and more recently for individuals with an acquired brain injury — has been available to the communities of Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield, according to Vice President of Integration and Community Living Spaces Tara Kurtz-Boucher. And now, the association is expanding the program to Franklin County.

Franklin County “is a service area we weren’t working with that I very much wanted to work with,” she said. “The pandemic has really changed the way people view their jobs, and shared living really does cater to people who … no longer feel comfortable working in a nursing home setting, so they can do their passion from their own home.”

Providers are compensated with a tax-free stipend between $30,000 and $45,000 annually.

Kurtz-Boucher said there are no prerequisites to being a provider, though the association has noticed an influx of people who have previously worked either in a nursing home or hospital environment. In the past, providers have ranged from single mothers or empty nesters, to former foster care parents or senior citizens.

“You just have to have a big heart and a willingness to learn,” she said. “We can train anybody that’s interested.”

Tracy Flynn, a program supervisor and case manager for the Shared Living Space Program, said providers are expected to keep homes orderly, work with the individuals to reach their goals and track medication.

“Providers don’t have to be medication certified, but they do need to watch the individual prepare their meds, or they give them their meds,” Flynn said in a statement.

Kurtz-Boucher said partnerships between the individual and provider are the result of an interview process, a home visit and lengthy conversations between herself and the social service agencies working with them to determine good matches.

Once a partnership is agreed upon, the provider meets with the individual for lunches, dinners and eventually an overnight stay before a formal decision is made.

“Shared living offers a different type of environment than your standard residential setting, your standard group home,” Kurtz-Boucher said.

The program offers individuals extra support while also providing a more independent and private lifestyle than in a group home, or with several other residents.

Therrien, who still works per diem as an outreach worker and runs her own hypnosis business, said the job is not only rewarding, but it offers providers a schedule “incomparable to anything else you can find.”

“Once you get into the routine and can learn to understand each other and how to communicate — you have needs, too; it’s not just about the one person — it’s about making a lifestyle that works for you,” she said. “Once you get through that, it’s the best job ever.”

For more information or to inquire about becoming a provider through the Shared Living Spaces Program, email sharedliving@mhainc.org.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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