With supportive services, people with disabilities move toward independenceQ&A with Kathryn Baker: Nonprofit Journal Project

Through its Community-Based Program, Blue Water Developmental Housing offers support services for people with disabilities who live independently or with their families in St. Clair and Macomb counties. Kathryn Baker is the organization’s division director of community services.

What are some of the support services you provide?

The services are driven by the person being supported. Those are based on their individual wants and desires. We could provide anything from assistance with cooking to banking—any kind of daily living skill. We might also take them to doctor’s appointments or make sure they get to a day program. Sometimes they have medical needs, like reminders to take their medication.

Making sure that they’re safe in the community is our number-one priority. We’re helping them to be as independent as possible, but provide support where they need it.

How do people get connected with Blue Water Developmental Housing?

Our referrals come to us through the local community mental health agencies in Macomb and St. Clair counties. Referrals come with an individual plan of service, and based on the plan, our agency determines if we have staff who can meet the person’s needs. And usually, we can.

Every individual that’s served has goals and objectives to meet, so that we can track the progress that they’ve made. A good way to describe it is that our job is working ourselves out of a job. We want to make people independent, so they are no longer so reliant on the services that we provide, but they can do those things on their own.

How has the Community-Based Program evolved since it began?

The people we support have more of a say in their lives, and they drive their plans, more than when we first started this program back in the ‘80s. It’s not based on what somebody else thinks a person needs; it’s based on what that person needs and want.

Do the staff work with people one on one?

There are two types of arrangements at Blue Water Developmental Housing. One is where we are working with people in a one-on-one capacity, either in their homes or their family homes. The other arrangement is a supported living arrangement, where usually up to three persons live together in a house in the community, and we provide the staffing for those individuals to succeed in the community.

How do you help people integrate into the community?

Inclusion in the community is very important to us, and that can happen in different ways. For example, we’ve gone to Tigers games, we go to the zoo and plays, and someone might be involved as a volunteer at the local soup kitchen or by working at a local business. We try to include people in any activity that any other person in the community would be involved in, based on what the person supported wants to do.

Why is that inclusion so important?

It reduces stigma for the people that we support. By being involved in the community, people see persons with disabilities are more like them than different, and that they are a valued, important part of our community. It makes people be not so standoffish and helps the persons we support increase their relationships.

Could you share an example of someone you have seen go through the program and benefit from it?

There’s a gentleman who lived in one of our group homes. He came from the state institution in Mt. Pleasant many years ago, then went to one of our group homes, and then went to an apartment in the community. He was our first person we supported in the community. And, because we were moving him out of the group home, we thought we had to provide all these supports and services around him. We spent the first day and night with him, and after that, he said: “You know, I think I can do this on my own.” The case manager adjusted his plan with more focus on what he could do. He now also has a part-time job at a local store in the community. He goes to see the local hockey team on a regular basis, and he’s involved in a bowling league.

How do volunteers contribute to the Community-Based Program?

We love volunteers, and there’s all sorts of different things they could do. They could come in and share a special skill at one of our homes in the community. We have someone that’s learning how to crochet from a volunteer in the community, for example.

What are you looking forward to in the coming months?

One of our agency’s goals is to serve more people in the community. COVID kind of shut things down for everyone, and now we’re back up and fully integrated into the community again. We have over 266 employees, and we would like to add to our base so we can support more people.

This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change, and more are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.
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