James Jeffries (left) with Betty and Bob Sheehan.
James, a diehard Elvis fan, stands beside his collection of Elvis memorabilia. On one vacation, the Sheehans took James to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
James commenting on his Elvis collection.
James enjoys art classes at the day program.
James neatly displays and stores his DVD collection on his bedroom walls.
Abandoned as a child, one man with a developmental disability found a family in midlife, thanks to a caring Colorado couple who opened their residence as an adult developmental home. With four grown children scattered across the country, Bob and Betty Sheehan were empty nesters—for about a year and a half. “We had this big house with six bedrooms and three bathrooms,” said Bob. So, the couple opened up their home to a remarkable individual named Mike, who has a developmental disability.
A developmental home is a family home that provides a private bedroom and supports for up to three individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities. In Arizona, the Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) contracts with residential agencies that represent over 1,200 developmental homes to provide services to eligible members.
Ten years after welcoming Mike to their home, the couple was asked to take in another man on a temporary basis. When James Jeffries arrived on a Friday as a three-day temporary guest, the Sheehans and Mike were preparing for a weekend of camping. A representative from Mosaic, the residential services agency representing Jeffries, told them their temporary guest also loved camping and fishing. Upon their return from their weekend trip, Mosaic offered to show James other homes, but he refused. “He wanted to stay where he was; he didn’t want to leave,” said Bob.
During those years, the four adults became family. They shared family rituals, like having dinner together every day discussing events around the dinner table. They shared activities, and a fondness for music, camping and fishing. And they shared experiences by traveling together, including excursions to Arizona.
Five years ago, the Sheehans started making plans to retire. They sold their big house and bought a fifth wheel motorhome, but after costly mechanical problems, the couple decided to retire to Arizona. Just the two of them, or so they thought.
Betty explained, “When we were talking about moving here, Mike had family back in Colorado who didn’t want him to leave. But James had no family that he’s in connection with.”
“We couldn’t leave him there,” said Bob. “Five-and-a-half years later, he’s still with us. He’s been with us a total of 10 years now.”
Along with making plans to move their household belongings, the couple laid the groundwork to transition supports and services for James from Colorado to Arizona. DDD was able to transition services and supports and provide a sense of stability. Unlike Colorado, Arizona requires all developmental homes to be licensed through DDD.
“We were interviewed right away through DDD,” said Bob. “They asked all kinds of questions to get James into the system quickly.”
“Knowing that James was going to come with us, we got a day program lined up for him,” said Betty. “It was a considerable and enjoyable change from what he was doing.” In addition to the day program’s therapies and activities, James works four hours a week and earns minimum wage. His favorite spending splurge is buying DVDs at garage sales.
“We also met with Mosaic because we’ve been with Mosaic for so many years. We let them know when we were coming and started getting those lines going. In fact, we didn’t even look at any other agencies,” said Bob.
“The Sheehans symbolize the familial bond that can be created in the adult developmental home environment,” said Kirk Stephens, Administrator of the DDD Office of Licensure, Certification and Regulation.
Over the past five years, James and his family have embraced desert living in Pinal County. They enjoy Arizona activities like visiting the airport museum, attending an Arizona Diamondbacks game, singing along to Bob’s guitar playing, watching the Arizona Cardinals games and bowling.
“Time and again, Bob and Betty have shown that they are perfect illustrations of what we search for in adult developmental home providers,” said Stephens. “James is not just a guest in their home. He is a member of their family.”
James commented, “I am happy [here with my family].”
By Lyn Riley