Extended family home providers are ordinary Nebraskan individuals and families who become certified to care for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in their own homes. Extended family home (EFH) providers offer a safe, loving and structured living environment to care for children or adults in need. EFH providers help individuals develop life skills so they can live independent, fulfilling lives and be more involved in the community.
Nneka Onuma and her family have been providing these services through KVC Nebraska since July 2017. In that time, they have opened their home to two boys, ages 9 and 17, for extended periods of time and have provided short-term respite care to other providers in between serving clients in their home. We recently sat down with Nneka to learn more about her family’s experience as an extended family home and what advice she has for others considering this line of service.
Q: What motivates you to open your home and care for others?
Nneka: I have been working with individuals with disabilities for about 12 years and would consider myself a natural caregiver. I have always helped take care of others since I was young. If a family member or friend is sick or needs help, I’m the one they immediately turn to and that makes me very happy and I feel fulfilled in life. I love helping people and knowing that I’m making their life better.
I was born in the U.S. but when I was young, my parents moved us to Nigeria and I grew up there. I moved back to the U.S. once I was an adult and continued to care for my parents by sending money back home to help support them. It has meant so much to me to be able to help my parents in this way and I enjoy taking care of them.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about being an extended family home provider? How has it changed your family members’ lives?
Nneka: What I find most rewarding is helping the individuals we serve live meaningful lives. I love being part of their journey and seeing the positive difference we make. I think that relates back to my joy of being a caregiver and with this work, it’s even more fulfilling because we’re helping individuals who have fallen on a difficult time or need very focused attention so they can learn and thrive.
Providing an extended family home has been a wonderful experience and learning opportunity for our children. It has taught them the importance of helping and supporting others and treating people with compassion and empathy. They see that all people are different and have learned to embrace diversity and be accepting of differences in people. Our kids have come to view the clients we’ve served as family and they miss them once they’re gone but it makes them feel good to know that they’ve helped others.
One of the biggest ways I’ve experienced personal growth through this work is I now have more patience. I always thought that since I was a mom I was already pretty patient, but I found that as a provider to individuals with disabilities, I’ve strengthened my patience even more. There are at times behavioral challenges and I’ve learned how to respond to those situations, which I think has made me a better mom too.
Q: What advice would you give to others considering becoming an extended family home provider?
Nneka: The biggest pieces of advice I have for others considering this type of service are to do research, be patient and committed, communicate, and find mentors.
Nneka then expanded on each piece of advice.
- Research – It’s very important to do plenty of research on how to care for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and learn as much as possible so you feel prepared. My husband and I take more training than what is required because we want to stay sharp. We even complete trainings when we don’t have a client living with us. We make sure we stay educated and highly skilled in this work. (Editor’s Note: You can take the first step by contacting us to learn more about becoming an extended family home for a person in need.)
- Patience – It won’t always be easy because there will be behavioral issues or developmental gaps. You just need to remind yourself to be patient. If patience isn’t a strength, then it would be beneficial to work on that trait before having a client move in so that you can better respond to any challenges that arise.
- Commitment – Being an extended family home provider is a 24/7 commitment since the individual lives in your home. You must be willing to go above and beyond for the client and be available at any time they need you. This includes being willing to sacrifice your personal events and interests if something comes up or if they conflict with a client need. This isn’t an eight-hour job; you’re adding someone to your family. You must really care and want to to create a real impact in their life and give them the best experience possible. You need to be fully invested and willing to put the client first.
- Communication – This is especially important if others live in your home. We’re very transparent and honest with our kids about this work and we speak openly with them before a client moves in. We allow our kids to ask any questions they have and ensure we explain the full process so that they have a clear understanding and appropriate expectations. We tell them that someone is moving in with us for a period of time so that we can help them and teach them and then they’ll move back into their own home.
- Mentoring – Spend time with other providers before taking in a client so that you fully understand the commitment you’re making. There are various options for how you can go about this – you can provide short-term respite services to other providers, spend a day shadowing someone and ask for extended mentorship.
Q: Why did you choose to work with KVC? How has your experience with KVC been?
Nneka: When my husband and I first decided to become providers, we applied to several different agencies. We wanted to ensure we checked out all of our options so we could choose the best fit for our family. We chose KVC because from the point we submitted our application, we found KVC to be very responsive and helpful. KVC was instantly engaged in our journey and stayed connected with us throughout the full process of applying, training, home studies, and having a client move in.
There has never been a moment where we felt alone. KVC made us feel comfortable and the staff quickly became an extension of our family, especially Ally Kirschenman. Ally has always gone above and beyond to provide us with any support and resources we’ve needed. Someone from KVC takes our calls at any time of the day. We are so thankful for our experience with KVC and Ally. She even stops by our house often to check in and see how we’re doing. She has become part of our family!
Learn more about how you make a difference in the life of a child, teen or adult who needs some extra support by becoming an extended family home here.