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Sharing Your Home and Your Heart: An Interview with a Shared Living Provider

Riverside’s Shared Living program matches adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, autism, or acquired brain injuries with welcoming individuals or families for long-term, in-home placement. Riverside is there every step of the way to provide support for the person served and all members of the home.

The following interview was conducted by Riverside employee Jake Donofrio and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Shared Living Program


Jake Donofrio: Hi Stella, can you introduce yourself to our readers?


Stella Chomba: I’m Stella Chomba. I live in Methuen, Massachusetts, and I’ve been a Shared Living Provider for over a year now. I’m married with two kids, ages 12 and 5, and through Shared Living, we’ve been able to welcome Brenda and Joseph into our home and our family.


I really enjoy Shared Living because I share our home with two individuals who are very different, but both make me so happy. And I like how my kids have seen how you can give back to the community by taking care of other people.


JD: Can you tell me a little bit about Brenda and Joseph?


SC: I first met Brenda in July 2022. She enjoys puzzles on her iPad and watching TV, especially police shows. Brenda’s just so sweet and appreciative – she’s always saying thank you. And slowly, she joined the family, and my daughter, Zawadi, really, really loves her.


Joe started living with us last year in November. He’s bubbly, talkative, and loves to crack jokes. Joe will see me doing something, such as cleaning, and he’ll offer to help. I really like how Brenda and Joe have blended with my family.


JD: How does Shared Living benefit individuals with disabilities?


SC: Brenda needs some help with ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). I’ll help her shower, prepare meals for her, and assist with her everyday needs. Sometimes, I’ll have to remind her to put on lotion or brush her teeth, and I schedule and attend all her doctor’s appointments.


Joe is more independent. I’ll wake him up and start making his coffee, but he showers, shaves, and gets ready by himself. He does sometimes need reminders to be appropriate in public – he’s got some jokes!


Also, I feel like we’ve been family for Brenda and Joseph. Now, they have someone to talk to and listen to what they’d like to do. Joe’s always wanted to go on a plane but never had the opportunity. So, we’re taking a flight to New York, and we’re both very excited. The things Brenda and Joe desire, I can make happen. Just being family for them – that’s what Shared Living is all about.


Shared Living ProgramJD: And what are the benefits of Shared Living for caregivers?


SC: As a caregiver, the benefits are plentiful. I’m a Christian, and my faith truly believes in giving. Helping those who need it is very important to me.


Another benefit is I feel my kids will learn that life’s not just about people like them. They will grow up knowing that life can be this way or life can be that way. Shared Living has been an excellent learning experience for my family.


Also, I just feel so appreciated. I’ll never forget when a Riverside employee pulled me aside to thank me during a Christmas party. She told me that while Brenda was at her Day Program, she was asked to say something she was thankful for. Brenda said she was so happy that she was connected with a lovely family, and she’s always grateful that she belongs to this family. That meant so much to me.


JD: What are your favorite activities to take part in with Brenda and Joe?


SC: With Brenda, traveling might be at the top of the list. We went to Ohio together and had the best time. Often, we’ll get our nails done or grab iced coffee, then have lunch and sit and talk. We’ve also gone apple and strawberry picking and going out to eat with the kids and Brenda is always fun for everyone. We’ve done a lot!


Joseph loves the dollar store, and we spend a lot of time there. We haven’t done as many activities with him because he just moved in, but we’re looking forward to going on all sorts of adventures together.


JD: How does Riverside support you as a Shared Living Provider?


SC: Riverside supports me in many, many ways. Before they matched me with Brenda, they really took the time to get to know my family. They’ll only match you with someone they think will be a good fit with your energy.


When Brenda started needing insulin, Riverside sent a nurse to come over and show me how to administer it properly. Riverside offers a lot of teaching, and I’ve gone through their trainings. They guide you on what you’re doing, and you’re never stuck by yourself.


If I have a question, I’ll talk to Shared Living Assistant Program Director, Karen, who will guide me. Say Brenda is sick; I have someone to call and say, hey, I think this is a little over my head; what do I do? They have nurses who are always willing to talk to us and arrange meetings if needed. No matter what comes up, I know Riverside is there to help.


JD: Can you discuss the progress Brenda and Joe have made while living with you?


SC: Brenda’s made a lot of progress. When she first came to my home, she was very shy. Having been in a nursing home during the height of the COVID pandemic, she mostly had to stay in her room. COVID really scared her as she had lost a cousin to the disease. So, she was in a shell.


But now, oh, she feels so comfortable here, and we talk, and we laugh all the time. She’ll tell me, “Stella, this is just the best place. This is home.” I’m so proud she’s come out of the shell that she was in.


And Joe, now he’s living a free life! He enjoys being out of the nursing home and having his own space. Joe has his own money, and he loves being able to spend it as he pleases. He’s happier being able to eat what he wants and not having to deal with the set menu at the nursing home. Shared Living has been so good for both of them.


JD: What does the future hold for you as a Shared Living Provider?


SC: I think I have a bright future as a Shared Living Provider because I feel like I am growing as a person. I especially enjoy being able to spend time with my kids as I give to the community. I’ve never found a situation that satisfies me like this one … and that’s from the bottom of my heart.


Are you interested in becoming a Shared Living provider? Riverside will provide you with a tax-free stipend and ongoing support and training. Call 781-762-8539 for more information. We’d love to have you join us!


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