Become a Mentor
Mentors like Suzanne are making a difference for individuals with disabilities in Illinois and across the country. Learn how you can make a difference, too.
A Perfect Fit
For Suzanne, it all started with an extra bedroom. Her daughter had moved out to start her own family, and her teenage sons, Andy and Dawson, were getting older. Like many parents adjusting to an empty nest, Suzanne began to consider what the next stage of her life would look like. She considered renting the room out, figuring she could use the space to generate a little extra income for her family. Then she read an article about a host home program for adults with disabilities operated by The MENTOR Network, Illinois MENTOR’s parent company.
“I was immediately intrigued,” Suzanne said. “I had never heard of a program like this. I liked the idea that people with disabilities could have a housing option like a host home that allows them to be active and live their lives in regular family homes.”
Ready to Make a Difference
Suzanne called the program and spoke with a recruiter, who explained how the organization helps people just like her become Host Home providers, or “Mentors,” and matches them with adults who need support and want to live in family homes. She knew from raising her son Andy, who has Down Syndrome, that being a Mentor could be challenging. However, through her own experience and with encouragement from the program’s team, Suzanne knew she could be a great Mentor.
In 2012, Suzanne was matched with Mason, a young man who had been living in a group home with other adults with developmental disabilities. Mason liked the group home, but he wanted to live with a family, where he could have more personal support and better focus on achieving his goals of finishing school and finding a job.
Living His Great Life
Mason’s motto is “My Great Life,” and he’s living it each day. With Suzanne’s support, he graduated from the local transition center, which had helped prepare him for the job he has excelled at for five years, clearing tables at a grocery store and cafeteria. Mason also attends his local community college, where he is pursuing a four-year Computer Support Specialist’s degree in cyber security. He is on track to complete the degree in December of 2019. Once he has finished, he plans to get a good job where he can utilize his new skills.
Since moving into Suzanne’s home, Mason has also achieved many goals that have allowed him to have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment, including taking his first plane ride, vacationing to Disney World and joining a club on his school campus. Mason has also maintained a strong relationship with his family, who live an hour away, and he has many friends in the community.
Mason says, “I have more freedom to do the things that I want to enjoy. I have more confidence and independence.”
The Host Home was such a great success for Suzanne and her family that in 2018 she decided to welcome a second individual into the home. She was matched with another young man, Shawn, who had been living in a group home and wanted more independence. Suzanne says the transition of moving Shawn into her home went smoothly, and he brought with him a lot of humor and personality.
Shawn says, “I like the Host Home program because I like hanging out with my housemates, and I can do lots of fun things.”
After one year of living in the Host Home, Shawn has settled into a routine and is setting and meeting his goals. He attends a Day Program, where he enjoys volunteering in the community, socializing and expanding his artistic abilities. He hopes to one day begin training for employment in the community through his local program’s vocational services.
Shawn is blossoming as he has gained more independence and discovered new interests. He participated in the Special Olympics bowling program, and he and Mason are planning a vacation together to Branson, Missouri. Shawn stays connected to his family and enjoys spending time with his friends. He loves to make people laugh and brings a sense of fun to all of his relationships.
Success at Home and in the Community
Suzanne says Mason and Shawn have had a positive impact on the whole family, including her sons, who have developed close friendships with both of them.
“It really has been a perfect fit in both situations. It’s changed our lives,” Suzanne says.