From the outside, DePaul’s Harvard Home appears to be a comfortable, inviting group home to five women with varying developmental or intellectual disabilities. In reality, it is all of that and much more because inside its walls, a tight-knit family of residents and staff lives there.
Harvard Home originally opened in Waynesboro in April 2006, with four residents moving from DePaul’s former Dogwood Home; with room for more, a fifth resident joined the group. Today, after nine years, those same five ladies continue to reside happily at Harvard Home, cared for by the majority of the same DePaul staff. “Because we have been together for so long, we truly have become like a family,” said Rhonda Pryor, Harvard Home’s residential manager.
Together, the residents and staff travel regularly and have experienced much in and around Virginia, from trips to the beach, the mountains, Natural Bridge, Richmond, as well as adventures in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. On a recent trip to D.C., the Harvard Home group took a trolley tour of the city and visited Arlington National Cemetery, where they watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and met with war veterans to thank them for their service.
“I had a lot of fun seeing the monuments in D.C.,” said BJ, one of Harvard Home’s residents. “I hope to go back and see more.”
When not traveling out of town, there are countless activities available to the ladies at Harvard Home. Most of the residents attend day support programs or have employment through a local sheltered workshop. Anyone who is not involved in a day program has opportunities to go shopping, run errands, or participate in leisure or skill-building activities. In the evenings, after everyone returns home, relaxes, and has dinner together, staff members always have an outing or group activity planned for the residents. With many flower beds on the property and a scenic outdoor space complete with a fish pond and handicap-accessible swings, gardening has become a popular pastime at Harvard Home. Each resident, depending on which task she likes best, takes part in planting, weeding, mulching, or watering the garden. The group also grows a variety of vegetables, which they later plan to harvest, prepare, and eat.
“I love being able to help with the flowers to make my house look pretty,” said Harvard Home resident Michelle.
Inside Harvard Home, the DePaul staff excels in creating a welcoming home environment for their residents. “We aim to make this space feel not like an institution, but like a typical home setting,” said Pryor. Personalized touches are evident throughout the house, especially in the individualized bedrooms that are decorated to suit each resident’s taste. The well-maintained home and surrounding landscape are managed by the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) board, which owns the property. Recent projects tackled by the HUD board include replacing the kitchen countertops and finding a new lawn care service. “We have a great relationship with members of the board, some of whom I’ve known for more than 15 years,” Pryor stated. “They always take care of what is needed.”
Throughout the year, Harvard Home is host to various parties and holiday celebrations, from cookouts with HUD board members to an annual summer bash with neighbors, local care providers, and other individuals in the DePaul family. The summer bash and other gatherings bring the community to the residents’ doorstep, and together everyone enjoys food and fun activities like popcorn, cotton candy, crafts, and a bounce house. “Our primary goal is to provide our residents with as many opportunities as are available to any average person,” Pryor explained. “As long as we are able to provide those opportunities, we will continue to do so.”
It is clear that the Harvard Home environment and the efforts of the dedicated DePaul staff are making a positive impact daily on the residents who call this special place their home. As residents BJ and Michelle emphatically agree, “We have the best home and staff ever!”