When Donna met Helen; a caregiver match success story

Donna and Helen met as a caregiver match through the Adult Family Care program in 1998 and they’ve been together ever since. COURTESY PHOTO

Recently divorced- with two young children- Donna was going through a difficult period when she decided to become a caregiver with Adult Family Care (AFC) in 1998.

Looking back on that decision to open her home to Helen, a women with developmental disabilities, Donna said it’s been life-changing for both of them. Nearly 20 years later, they’re still going strong.

“I’ve been very lucky,” said Donna. “Helen helped me get through a difficult part of my life. I love her.”

Donna and Helen were a caregiver match through AFC, which helps people receive the care they need at home through caregiver training and compensation. The program primarily helps family caregivers succeed, but it also matches compassionate people who can open their homes with others who want to live in the community.

In this case, Helen wanted to relocate to a home setting. Her siblings connected with Donna, who owns a 5-bedroom home and had worked with people with developmental disabilities for years. Helen’s family then contacted AFC, which followed up with a rigorous screening process to ensure they were a good match.

As a caregiver through AFC, Donna receives a monthly stipend, as well as support and training from a social worker and nurse. AFC director Jeanne Leyden said they check in monthly, to confirm things are going well and offer support.

“This work can be overwhelming at times!” said Leyden. “So the support and stability from our social workers and nurses has been a tremendous help to Donna over the years.”

AFC is a MassHealth-funded program, which is provided at no cost to eligible participants. In order to receive help through AFC, the person receiving care must require assistance with daily living activities, such as ambulating, dressing or eating.

In addition to a safe and comfortable living situation, Donna provides care and mentoring, and has worked to help Helen feel a part of the family; Helen knows that she always has an open invitation to whatever Donna is doing. But they also maintain their separate lives and routines. Donna has a job in addition to providing care for Helen, and Helen has attended the same adult day health program for years.

Leyden said it takes a lot of work to make a match sustainable, and she credited Donna and Helen for continually putting in the effort.

“When you have a match, there are always certain challenges,” said Leyden. “Donna and Helen are always willing to work out any issues.”

Donna confirmed that caring for someone in your own home isn’t always easy, and described AFC as a crucial part of a support system that includes Helen’s sisters.

“She has an amazing family,” said Donna. “Her sisters are great advocates. And AFC is always there if I need them.”

Adult Family Care is a non-profit program at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services that supports in-home caregivers across the Greater Boston, North Shore, and Merrimack Valley areas. For more information, visit adultfamilycare.org or call 617-628-2601.