CEDAR RAPIDS — Like many Americans, Mason Hamann traveled home for Thanksgiving, but this year, the 19-year-old has a new reason to give thanks.
Hamann is one of four adults with developmental disabilities who are first-time participants in REM Iowa’s Host Home program.
Through the program, adults like Hamann are matched with hosts, called mentors, who provide ongoing care and support.
“You are hosting someone in your home 24/7, 365,” said Monica Ravn, program manager for the Hiawatha-based for-profit agency. “You have to have the dedication and willingness to do this.”
Ravn said the Cedar Rapids area is the first in Iowa to offer the program through REM Iowa’s partnership with the MENTOR Network.
The network pioneered the Host Home program 30 years ago in Massachusetts and now offers the service in 12 states besides Iowa.
“This is a very new concept in the state of Iowa,” Ravn said. An agency in Des Moines offers a similar, but separate, program.
REM Iowa, founded in 1979, is a home and community-based service provider for children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injuries and behavioral and mental health challenges.
The Host Home program offers another option besides nursing homes or group homes, where many adults with developmental disabilities live.
“It is a family-like environment,” Ravn said, but added that the hosts do not replace the adult’s biological family. “It’s not like adult foster care. They’re not going to be adopted. The mentors do not take the place of mom and dad.”
Mentors are paid an annual stipend of $32,000 to $60,000 for providing support and supervision, plus room and board.
Those stipends come from the Medicaid intellectual disability waiver, so individuals in the program must qualify for that funding stream.
While too soon to tell in Iowa, Ravn said the program in other states has proved to be cost-effective.
Better fit for some
More importantly, the continuity of support from the mentor increases the adult’s quality of life and skill levels, she said.
The adults are expected to participate as best they can with cleaning or other tasks at home and go on outings with the family.
While some adults may prefer to live in a group home with their peers, Ravn said others have difficulty thriving when seeing three to 15 different caregivers in a week.
The first adult in the Cedar Rapids area was placed with a family in March; Hamann came to live with Suzanne and Brian Revers in August.
A student at the PrairieWood Transition Center on the Kirkwood Community College campus, Hamann, who has autism, graduated from Iowa City West and lived in group homes in Iowa City and Coralville before moving to Cedar Rapids.
His mother lives in Mount Pleasant, where he traveled for Thanksgiving.
“I like living here,” Hamann said, after arriving from school at the Revers’ home near Kirkwood in southwest Cedar Rapids.
He grabs cookies from the cupboard and situates his lanky frame at the table to discuss his day with Suzanne Revers, 49.
Hamann said he particularly enjoys spending time with Andy Revers, 32, who also has a disability and lives at home, and Dawson Revers, 9, as well as the family’s Bichon/Shih Tzu, Baxter.
“I’m thankful I have a good friend in Dawson and Andy,” he said. “And I’m thankful my mentors have a good sense of humor.”
Dawson and Andy are like brothers to Hamann, though he notes that they do not replace his own family.
Suzanne and Brian, 52, are owners of Music Go Round in Cedar Rapids, with Suzanne handling accounting from home.
They found a shared love of music with Hamann, as well as computers and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The family met with Hamann several times before both decided they would be a good fit.
“That is the key to the program,” Ravn said. “We have to find that perfect match between the individual and the host home.”
Mentors undergo extensive background checks before being accepted into the program and receive training in a variety of issues, such as medication management, she said.
Adults are ages 16 and up — the oldest in the program is 61 — and have an intellectual disability, brain injury or mental illness.
The program, which is in need of more mentors, is intended to be long-term, Ravn said, though some participants may eventually move out to live on their own.
Hamann has learned to do his own laundry while living with the Revers and said he enjoys greater independence than he had in the group homes.
His goal is to get a paying job — ideally one with computers — though he wonders if any company would hire someone with a disability. He currently does work through PrairieWood at YellowBook and Hy-Vee.
Suzanne Revers said the Host Home program has no downside for her family, but is quick to point out that the program isn’t for everyone.
“It’s a lot of work. Raising a family is a lot of work,” she said. “But it’s been a very smooth transition. It felt absolutely right to us every step of the way.”
For more information on REM Iowa’s Host Home program, see: www.remiowa.com or call Monica Ravn at (319) 393-1944 ext. 58.