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Mentor program available for adults with disabilities

07.27.2010

A new in-home program for adults with developmental disabilities is available in the North State.

The Far North Regional Center of California Mentor is ready to start placing people in family homes, where they can get the help they need.

"We put people in homes in the community where they're from," said Lee Laney, regional program manager. It works similar to foster care for juveniles, he said.

Based in Chico, the Far Northern Regional Center covers nine counties: Glenn, Tehama, Butte, Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity, Plumas, Lassen and Modoc.

California Mentor is part of The Mentor Network, which began 30 years ago in Boston, Laney said. Thirty-six states have programs, and about 2,000 people participate in California.

Designated a Family Home Agency by the state, "it's a well-tested model," he said.


The program is designed to meet a broad range of needs and provides flexibility for clients and mentors alike.

To qualify, clients must have a developmental disability diagnosed before turning 18 years old, Laney said.

He described a developmental disability as something "neurological" that is long lasting and "affects major life functions." It could be physical or mental, he said.

Although the diagnosis must be made prior to age 18, the "irony," as Laney put it, is that "after 18, hardly anything is available to help them."
He noted that the state used to provide institutionalized care, such as state hospitals, but there was "very little help in the community."

The Mentor Network has been changing that around the country and around California for many years, but this is its first foray in the North State.

"We hope to help people in our community," Laney added.

Now people either stay with their parents, go into longterm care facilities, like nursing homes, or have to leave the area, he said.

"The medical system has been tremendous increasing saving lives," Laney said. "But the social system has not kept up with people with permanent injuries."

Family environment

The program works by matching clients and mentors in a home environment, in which a developmentally disabled person moves into someone else's home.

The program is for people with varying levels of disability. Some work during the day or go to day programs, so mentors often maintain their fulltime jobs, Laney said.

Others require more intensive care. But, all clients need some degree of supervision," according to Laney.

For some clients, finding in a mentor home will mean moving back to their hometowns and being closer to family. Some will gain a degree of autonomy from their parents, as part of the natural progression of being an adult, Laney said.

Older parents, in the 70s and 80s who have taken care of their children all their lives, see it as an option because the situation "more closely approximates a family home," he said.

Even after clients move in with their mentors, families are encouraged to be active participants. Laney said, other activities also bring mentors and clients together in social situations.

Laney said people who take clients into their homes are more than caregivers. They take on mentoring roll.

Mentors are expected to "encourage people to grow and help people acquire new skills, help them make new friends," he said. Mentors are there "to provide guidance."

But, Laney added, they are instructed not to take on the roll of parents. Clients are expected to make their own decisions.

Unlike juvenile foster care, where children move from home to home, the goal of the Far North Regional Center is to establish longterm relationships, according to Laney.

For example, the relationship can become less restrictive, for example if the client improves, Laney said, and yet there is no need to move out of the home.

"We want clients to have as rich a life as possible," he added, so the organization encouraged people to "maintain positive influences."
 
Being a mentor

More than anything, mentors need to have the heart for taking in a developmentally disabled person, Laney said.

Many mentors have or do work the caring professions — nurses, doctors, care givers, childcare workers, for example — but it is not absolutely necessary.

"We prefer people who have worked with developmental disabled, but it is not required," Laney said. "We can provide the education and skills they need," with a variety of programs.

The first qualification is to have a home with an available bedroom, Laney said. Occasionally, though not often, if a second bedroom is available, a second person can be placed with one mentor or mentor family.

Mentor applicants much have a background check, including fingerprinted, and participate in a skill-development seminar, which will get them a certificate.

"It takes about 60 days to get everything in order," Laney said.

Once a client and mentor are matched — they make the decision about whether they want to live and work together — ongoing training is provided.

In fact, mentors are required take 20 continuing education hours a year and must re-certified every year, Laney noted.

Mentors can be single, married or have children. As Laney noted, the program allows a fair bit of flexibility.

In some situations, mentors can accommodate a parent and a child or a married couple, he said.

A monthly stipend ranges from $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the level of care required.

But Laney said, "people drawn to this get satisfaction from helping others. The money is not enough if that's all they're interested in."

"Don't be intimidated," Laney said to prospective mentors. "You don't have to have experience with this client population. We can teach you. It's the heart that matters."

He said "there is a strong system for monitoring mentors and clients, including visits every two weeks to see how things are going.

In addition, a mentor support groups and social activities make a it easier and more fun for everyone.

Also, behavior and nursing consultants are available and Laney, as program director, is available 24 hours a day, he said.

Of the 16 offices in California, Far North California Center comprises the biggest geographic area.

Still, the advantage of starting the mentoring program here is the experience and support that comes from the national organization.

"They've done it. They've seen it," Laney said, noting no one needs to "reinvent the wheel."

Laney came to the Far North California Center after working nonprofit organizations for many years, most recently the North Valley Community Foundation.

Prior to that he spent 15 years at a training center, where he served as development director; and, he was executive director of ARCH in Butte and Glenn counties for 10 years, Laney said.

"I like to start new things," he said.

"I'm bringing my credibility and history in this community to bring a local face to an organization that hasn't had a local presence before."

For more information, call the office at 892-9200, e-mail lee.laney@thementornetwork.com or visit the state website at www.camentorfha.com or the national website at www.thementornetwork.com.

Contact Lydia Harris at 934-6800, 865-3110 or lharris@tcnpress.com.

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