Not long ago, 23-year-old Hai Nguyen received his Associate in Science degree in Digital Media Production Technology from Springfield Technical Community College. One goal he has set for the future is continuing his education—and he won’t let his Autism stand in the way of his success.
Hai will tell you he doesn’t like to be defined by his disability. And why should he be? He overcame the barriers a developmental disability like Autism can present by getting into college, doing the work and graduating! As his choice of college major reveals, Hai is an artsy guy, now trained in all facets of broadcast media production. He’s also a good singer, enjoys acting, and was judged a winner of MHA’s Annual Talent Show in 2020.
Until recently, Hai had been under the guardianship of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. For as long as he can remember he’d gone from foster home to foster home. But as an adult, he has transitioned to services under the Department of Developmental Services. A member of his DDS team connected Hai with MHA, and that led to his Shared Living arrangement.
Shared Living is an alternative to a 24-hour group home for adults who receive services through DDS. Shared Living providers welcome an individual into their stable and caring home environment while providing an appropriate level of care and receiving an income to do so. Providers include single parents, retirees, widows/widowers—anyone with room in their heart and their home to share all that life has to offer. Hai’s new family includes a married couple, who are the Shared Living providers, and another Shared Living participant. They’ve been together now for a few months and are building a strong and caring relationship.
In many cases, the individual supported through Shared Living becomes a permanent addition to a forever family. In other cases, where the individual has a goal to live independently, the provider may serve as a roommate and role model who helps the individual learn to achieve goals necessary for independent living.
“Hai is a wonderful person, so trusting and selfless,” said Linda Kloss, Vice President of Integration and Community Living for MHA. “We were told that once he literally gave a homeless man the clothes off his back. Hai is modest, too, and will tell you that he doesn’t feel he’s smart—even though he graduated from college! His Shared Living arrangement provides the kind of support and guidance that is helping Hai feel more confident and happier with himself.”
Because Hai has been recently diagnosed with diabetes, his Shared Living provider helps with diet, meal preparation, medication management and healthy eating. “He lives in a family that embraces their caregiving role,” said Linda. “It’s a nurturing environment. A family dynamic is part of his daily life and Hai is made to feel he is a member of the family. For his birthday, they had a party for Hai with cake, and the providers’ grandchildren all sang him Happy Birthday. He was thrilled!”
Hai’s Community Partner Staff, funded through our contract with DDS, is helping him look for new opportunities for school and work. She is a police dispatcher and a nursing student who is a positive influence and role model for Hai. Currently he’s getting help with the job services and has an interview with MGM where he hopes to apply his commitment and many skills.
There’s also an important socialization component provided by a Shared Living arrangement. As COVID protocols become less restrictive, Hai is looking forward to getting out into his community, and his Shared Living providers are ready and eager to help him.
“People will ask me, ‘Do I have what it takes to be a Shared Living provider?” said Linda. “Well, if you can actively embrace a person with developmental disabilities, perhaps someone like Hai, as part of your own family, that’s a good start. You must become that person’s friend, teacher and advocate. A good match is critical, and helping to make that match is among the many services provided by MHA. To find our more, reach out to me, Linda Kloss, at email@example.com.”