For the Burdens, Shared Living has grown their family.
In Zenaide Burden‘s Newark home, all family members work together to be there for each other.
From the positive affirmations hanging in the living room to the way family members lend a hand, it’s clear the household has a culture of being kind and acknowledging other’s feelings.
”There is no judgement here, we respect each other,” Zenaide said. “We still have some bumps in the road, but we reach out for support when we do.”
For Tiffney Schielle, Jennifer Grove and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Valentine, this structure has provided a sense of comfort and support for more than a decade.
All three women aren’t the Burden’s biological children. But they are considered members of the family.
”I didn’t have a home to grow up in until I came here,” Lizzie said.
Jennifer, Tiffney and Lizzie all participate in the Ohio Shared Living program.
Formerly known as adult family living or adult foster care, Shared Living allows adults with developmental disabilities to live in a family-setting while receiving the supports they need.
In the Burden home, Zenaide acts as a paid caregiver, working together with the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities and other providers to make sure their needs are met.
But their relationship goes far beyond that. Jennifer, Tiffney and Lizzie go on vacation with the rest of the family, participate in family celebrations and have an extended network of support.
“These are like my kids,” Zenaide said. “It just feels natural because I’ve have them for so long. It just works for us.”
Zenaide’s Shared Living experience began many years before Jennifer, Tiffney and Lizzie became adults.
It started more than 17 years ago when she became a licensed foster parent.
Jennifer was placed with the family when she was 13. It was originally intended to be a short term placement, but she quickly became part of the family.
As Jennifer approached her 21st birthday, the though of leaving the Burdens brought her to tears.
“I didn’t want to be anywhere else,” Jennifer said. “This is my home and I’m comfortable here.”
A service coordinator at the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities told Zenaide she could become a Shared Living provider and continue to care for Jennifer as an adult.
“So I researched how to become a provider and we used money from my retirement to add another room in our house,” Zenaide said. “I can’t think of a more rewarding job.”
Lizzie and Tiffney also came to the Burdens as foster daughters and decided to make the transition to Shared Living.
“I love these guys, they took me in,” Tiffney said. “I love living here, it’s much easier on me. This family cares about me.”
To offer Shared Living, caregivers must be certified IO waiver providers. They must also be willing to provide a stable, inclusive environment that offers a family structure.
The goal is to get people more connected with the community, through living with a family.
For Zenaide, it was sometimes challenging, transitioning from the role of foster parent to the Shared Living provider for three adults.
“To be honest, it’s hard going from mother-mode to provider-mode, but you have to reframe your thinking,” she said. “They have choice and independence.”
The Burdens support each woman’s different interests and passions.
Jennifer is active in dance classes and works at Wendys. Lizzie is planning to go to college through PALS to become a vet tech. Tiffney attends PALS daily, where she enjoys music and art, and is working on getting out in the community more often.
“The goal all along is that they be members of the community and be their own individuals, but they will always have a home here,” Zenaide said.
Shared Living has been a great fit for the Burden family and Zenaide said she would encourage other families with open hearts to learn more.
“I love what I do, I feel like this is a gift from God,” she said. “These guys have blessed me beyond belief.”
For more information about Shared Living, contact the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities at 740-349-6588 or go to dodd.ohio.gov/ohiosharedliving.