On Monday, Marian Green went shopping at Peterson's Foodtown. Later she helped sort clothes for the washing machine. That might sound like just errands and chores to you, but to Marian it sounds like independence. After years of being taken care of, she is finally helping take care of herself.
Like other profoundly retarded adults once confined to institutions, Marian now lives in the community - in a place that looks and feels like a home, a place where she can even help fix lunch.Like the other seven women in the special group home, Marian has epilepsy in addition to being profoundly retarded. Their home, which opened in November, plus the group home for men next door, provides the first chance this population has had to move out of institutions.
The homes, located on the edge of farm land in Riverton, are cozy but spacious. In the women's home the sofa is covered in a cheerful floral fabric. Sunlight pours in from every direction. Administrative offices and the nursing station have been tucked out of sight.
Before meals the women tend to gravitate to the kitchen, where they can help toss a salad or stir a stew. Being able to smell dinner cooking is a new experience for these women. At the American Fork Training School, where most of the adults lived before moving to the new group homes, food appeared at mealtimes in containers, as if by magic.
This spring the adults will have a chance to participate in yet another step in the food preparation process when they help plant a garden in the backyard.
The group homes operate on the philosophy that by living in a place they take pride in and can take care of, the women and men will begin to act more like adults.
"As they take care of themselves they start losing their childlike behavior," explains Georgia Laun, director of Danville Handicapped Services, a private company that manages 10 group homes in Utah.
Although the women and men generally operate at somewhere between a 2- and 4-year-old level intellectually, "we believe that retarded adults don't have to act like children," adds Bonnie Duvall, program director for Danville's Salt Lake County programs.
Vestiges of their adult childhood adorn the bedrooms - not just stuffed animals but preschool toys like "Mother Goose Says." Group home coordinators Denese Morrill and Shaunna Danklef are trying to wean the adults away from these toward more adult pursuits.
Because the homes are small there is less competition for attention than in a bigger institution, says Laun, and that means less "acting-out behavior." The homes' quiet atmosphere also means fewer seizures, she adds.
Most of the adults in the homes still have some seizures. To lessen the chance of injury, the dressers and tables all have rounded corners. The furniture was specially designed by Beautyline Furniture Manufacturing of Salt Lake City.
Now that they no longer live in an institution, the adults can go out on shopping trips and can attend a church whose congregation doesn't come just from the retarded community. Although some Riverton residents objected at first to having the group home in their neighborhood, Laun believes they are now happy with their new neighbors.
The most telling praise, though, comes from the group home members themselves. Randa Coombs, 36, greeted her mother the other day with an exclamation that summed up her feelings: "Happy!"