Suzan and Mike are a Nebraska couple who have chosen to dedicate their lives to caring for individuals with disabilities. They do this as Shared Living Providers through KVC Nebraska. They chose this path as their full-time jobs because of the overwhelming sense of fulfillment and happiness it brings to their lives every day.
“We were walking through Target earlier this morning and Mike squeezed my hand. I looked at him and said, ‘I love our life,’ and he said, ‘I do, too.’ We think we have a really great life.” – Suzan
Suzan and Mike are fully engaged with their clients and have made the commitment to be available to them 24/7 for whatever they need. They are still able to have alone time and do things they enjoy, and the clients have the alone time they want, too. They said it’s all about scheduling and balance.
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Following Their Passions
Suzan has more than 20 years of experience providing care to individuals with disabilities and even used to own her own agency in this line of work. She closed her agency a couple of years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer so that she could focus on treatment and restoring her personal health. Once she completed treatment, she considered reopening her agency but was overjoyed at the opportunity to provide direct, full-time care to those in need without having to start her business back up. Suzan has raised 11 children in her home which included biological and adopted children.
“Being a mom has been my favorite job and becoming a Shared Living Provider has allowed me to do that again.” – Suzan
Mike’s passion for this work comes from his experience helping his parents care for his younger brother who has an intellectual disability. After spending most of his adulthood in the corporate world and most recently working as a pharmaceutical sales rep, Mike was ready for a change. He was ready to leave behind the days of meetings, endless emails and business travel to spend his time helping others live full, independent and happy lives.
Providing the Most Meaningful Life Possible for Clients
Suzan and Mike currently serve three male clients between the ages of 30-40, each diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Individuals with disabilities often thrive on routines and schedules so Suzan and Mike plan out meals and activities for an entire month at a time. Each week typically includes at least three to four low-cost outings such as hiking, visiting the humane society, going to the zoo, and other fun activities. If for any reason they need to break routine or change the schedule, they very clearly communicate with their clients and allow them to ask questions to help them adjust to the changes.
Recently, Suzan and Mike took their three clients to Chicago for a five-day vacation. They enjoyed an amazing trip full of train and boat rides, museum visits, a Cubs game, and going to iconic sights such as Navy Pier and the John Hancock building. They do their best to give their clients a variety of experiences so that they can try different things and see new scenery.
Four Families Become One
Suzan and Mike’s clients moved out of their family homes because they each wanted to experience life as an adult living away from their parents. Suzan and Mike empower the clients in their care with independent living skills and help them build community connections. The Shared Living program makes them feel like they are moving out on their own and growing up, but they still have their family’s support if they need anything.
A big part of being able to take the clients on trips and to do so many different activities is complete support from the clients’ families. It isn’t always a given that a client’s family will be involved, but for Suzan and Mike, they feel like they have all become one big extended family. They have dinners and get-togethers with clients’ families and even take clients to visit relatives outside of Nebraska.
“They’re so supportive and if we ever have anything personal come up, we know their families are willing to step in and help. For others considering becoming a Shared Living Provider who do not have this much support from the families, we recommend using respite care. KVC is good about helping with this and providing resources for finding respite providers.” – Mike
The Perks of being a Shared Living Provider
Suzan and Mike love being Shared Living Providers because of the consistency. The clients typically stay in one home long-term which allows them to build a connection with their provider. They become a family. Also, with certain disabilities, clients can be very specific about how they like things done. With Shared Living services, the provider gets to know these specifications and can keep care consistent and customized for the client.
For example, they were having a hard time finding an activity that one of the clients in their care could enjoy while having downtime at home. They tried different things and then eventually tried activities like puzzles and blocks, and found that he loved them. Suzan and Mike were able to take the time to try out different activities until they found what really resonated with him.
They also shared that another great aspect of Shared Living is that clients get to know potential providers and make the decision of who they want to live with. It is as much the client’s decision as it is the providers’ decision.
Suzan and Mike also agree that a big perk of being a full-time Shared Living Provider is getting out of corporate America. They especially love getting to know the clients on a deeper level. They love caregiving for others as if they are family and spending their days doing fun activities together.
“It’s so fun getting to know each of their unique character and personality traits. They all have the cutest things they do that makes them who they are. They all get so excited and find so much joy in everything they do.” – Suzan
Advice to Others Considering Becoming a Shared Living Provider:
- Understand the commitment: This isn’t just a babysitting job. It’s a commitment – a physical and emotional investment. You’re becoming an extension of their family and should connect on that type of level. You have to think about what you would want for your child if they were going to be the one moving into someone else’s home.
- Consider your lifestyle: Think about what type of lifestyle you have and what you like to do and make sure your agency, such as KVC Nebraska, knows those specifics. This information helps the agency match clients and providers. For example, Suzan and Mike love to go hiking and do outdoor activities so KVC Nebraska matched them with clients who also enjoy those types of activities.
- Be prepared for different behaviors: You need to be prepared for handling client reactions in different situations. Someone with a developmental and/or intellectual disability might react to a scenario in a way that is different than what you are used to. Be prepared for those situations and remain calm.
- Be willing to sacrifice: Every now and then, you might have to miss an event or give up time doing activities you most enjoy. For example, if you’re planning to go to your friend’s dinner party but one of the clients gets sick, you will have to stay home with them and miss the dinner. Make sure you are OK with that and willing to make those sacrifices. In these situations, it’s also very helpful to have pre-identified respite care providers and have built a strong relationship with the client’s family.
- Don’t do it for the money: Don’t go into this field for the money and financial benefit. If that’s what you’re in it for, it won’t work and that isn’t fair to the client. They deserve your full commitment and interest in giving them a better life. Also, you won’t be happy in the long run.
- Consider the agency: There are a lot of agencies out there like KVC, and support is HUGE factor when choosing an agency. Just as the provider will interview you, make sure you interview the agency to make sure it’s the right fit for you and your family, too. You will also want to know if your agency provides the annual trainings and certification required. Do they provide trainings frequently? Do they pay for training? Where are they located? Do they provide childcare? Suzan and Mike said KVC is everything they could have hoped for in a partner. KVC team members have been available to them at all times and have provided so much support.
A Final Note from Suzan
We wouldn’t trade what we’re doing for anything. We’re happy and more importantly, our clients are happy. We have a remarkable life. Our home is relaxed and a lot of that is thanks to KVC. I’ve worked with a lot of agencies, had my own agency, and I have seen many agencies talk the talk but not walk the walk. The team at KVC is amazing – I had never met a group of people in this industry where I believe every single one of them goes above and beyond. Some of the other agencies we’ve seen grow so fast and lose sight of what is really important – their clients. Our Shared Living Specialist, Michaela Breault, is wonderful. She comes to our home often and gives us so much support. The reason we have such a great match with these three men is because of the work from KVC and their team. There is real matching happening, they don’t just put them in any home – they make sure it’s the best match for all parties.