Shirley Cole has accepted children, and adults, with developmental disabilities into her home for 28 years.
She was one of Community Living Greater Sudbury's first home providers with the Family Home Program, which the organization launched in 1988 to provide safe and loving homes for adults with developmental disabilities.
Before the program launched, Cole provided relief care for a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy.
Cole's sister-in-law worked for the Children's Aid Society, and asked if she could provide the girl with a caring home.
Over time, that temporary relief care turned into a full-time job, and the child became an extended part of Cole's family.
She lived with Cole and her family for 23 years, until she died of health complications at the age of 33.
Shortly after the girl came into her life, Cole also started to care for a young man, who went on to live with the family for 27 years, before he passed away from health issues, too.
“I loved them like they were my own children,” Cole said.
She has one biological son, Tim, but because she grew up in a large family, with seven siblings, Cole had always wanted more children.
“The more, the merrier,” she said.
Cole has since opened her home to a 65-year-old man and a 51-year-old man, as well. Both have developmental disabilities and are non-verbal.
The Family Home Program was established as an extension to the Children's Aid Society's Specialized Foster Care program.
After individuals turn 18, they qualify for the Family Home Program, where they can live with a family instead of a group home.
When the program launched in the late 1980s, it included four individuals with developmental disabilities and three host families.
It quickly expanded, and today includes 34 home providers and 47 individuals.
Home providers like Cole receive tax-free remuneration and, if they are opening their homes full-time, receive one weekend of relief, and an additional 40 hours of relief, each month.
Home providers also have access to 24/7 support from five case workers on staff with the program.
Bonnie Durrell, the program's recruiter, said most participants start by providing relief on a part-time basis.
The program tries to place them with the same individuals on a regular basis, and the families often form a bond, and choose to host them full-time.
Durrell said the program needs more host families to meet the growing demand for the service.
“We're always looking for new home providers,” she said.
Durrell reports any vacancies to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, which then places adults with developmental disabilities with home providers.
For Cole, the program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life, but it also requires a lot of patience and compassion.
“I'm a great believer that once they're in your home, you work hard, be patient and loving,” she said. “It's all rewarding in the end.”
To learn more about the Family Home Program, visit Community Living Greater Sudbury's website, or contact durrell at Bdurrell@clgs.ca.