A Washtenaw County-based nonprofit has acquired a 90-acre plot of land in Scio Township, which it plans to transform into a community in which adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) can live alongside their caregivers.
The nonprofit, Many Hands Lifesharing Community
, plans to build eight 12-bedroom homes on the property, each of which will house four adults living with IDD. The remaining bedrooms will be occupied by caregivers, who will live on site full-time. The nonprofit is preparing to launch a capital campaign to fund construction on the site, anticipating that its first group of residents will move in in 2025.
This model of care, known as "lifesharing," might be new to Michigan but has gained popularity in areas like Pennsylvania and New York, and has "proven the test of time," according to Kerry Kafafian, who founded Many Hands Lifesharing Community in 2019. The nonprofit currently operates out of her home but will soon open a dedicated office in Dexter.
Kafafian says the lifesharing model bypasses some of the difficulties involved in traditional care, such as abrupt shift changes, which can be disruptive or stressful to adults with IDD.
"You don't have those rough eight-hour changes of somebody coming into your home, somebody leaving," she says. Instead, "everyone's living together, sharing their life together."
Kafafian says the newly-acquired land offers an idyllic setting for the community, with "rolling farmland [and] deep woods nearby."
"I feel very strongly that reconnecting with nature is extremely therapeutic," Kafafian says.
According to Kafafian, adults with IDD are often already "having trouble processing just how fast our world goes" and "need a place where their brain can just quiet down."
Kafafian envisions the Many Hands Lifesharing Community with miles of walking trails, an organic farm, and even animals like goats and alpacas, "so that people have an opportunity to care for another living being."
"They've always been the ones receiving the care, and by having animals there, now they can be the caregivers," Kafafian says.
At the same time, it was important to Kafafian that the property not be isolated. She wanted to be near enough to Ann Arbor that residents could still occasionally enjoy interactions with the wider community.
Kafafian also hopes that the property's location will help to draw staff from the student and alumni populations of the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Concordia University, and Washtenaw Community College.
Kafafian acknowledges that "staffing is beyond a crisis for direct care professionals." She hopes to attract staff by offering housing and food alongside wages. She envisions staff members "who just really want to make a difference and not push papers."
By offering educational classes and training, Kafafian hopes to turn Many Hands into "more than just a job" for her staff.
"It's kind of an experience that they can take and help them through their career," she says.
Most importantly, Kafafian says Many Hands is meant to be a lifelong solution where individuals with IDD "can age in place."
"This is their permanent home," she says.
Kafafian says Many Hands will prioritize housing individuals who seem to be compatible with each other. While some people are extremely sensitive to noise, others tend to vocalize loudly, for instance.
"We wouldn't put those two in the same house," Kafafian says. "So finding that right fit is the key factor. ... Everyone desires to belong, to have value. The social component to [Many Hands] is really designed so that each person can thrive and their uniqueness can come through."
She plans to offer a café, a craft house, a pool, and other amenities where residents can learn skills or enjoy themselves.
"We provide physical activity, healthy home-cooked meals, and deep socialization," she says. "Those are the three components for quality of life and we're able to do that in, I think, a very unique, successful way."
Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.
Rendering courtesy of Many Hands Lifesharing Community.