Michael Majors and Parents

Fred Major is no stranger to the joys and struggles of caring for loved ones with developmental disabilities.

Growing up, Fred had two older brothers with developmental disabilities. One of his brothers, Michael, was profoundly disabled and born at a time when parents relinquished custody to limit out-of-pocket expenses that could bankrupt a family.

“My father, who at the time was working multiple jobs, was spending more on Michael and his care than the other six living children combined,” Fred said. “Michael was 18 years old before my mother’s aunt Irene Lennon, an esteemed attorney, along with the Pastor of our church took it upon themselves to contact the Ohio State Capitol to plea on behalf of our family for assistance with Michael.”

Michael became a ward of the state of Ohio and was institutionalized for more than 20 years. He lived for a time at Apple Creek State Hospital before being moved to the Broadview Development Center. When the prevailing opinion on mental health shifted from institutional care to community-based care, the hospital lost its funding, and Michael needed a new place to call home.

Two brothers on a swing in the backyard of a group home

Michael Major (left) and Dennis Major (right) enjoy time together at Michael’s home in North Royalton.

Michael was one of the final people to move out of the Broadview Development Center in 1993 because he was deemed to be challenging and the county was having difficulty placing him. Having spent so long in an institutional setting, he didn’t know how to get along with his peers and had limited verbal capabilities. Luckily, the team at Koinonia was ready to step up and offer Michael a home.

Michael first moved into Stearns House, an intermediate care facility (ICF) that provides comprehensive and individualized healthcare and rehabilitation services that promote functional status and independence. Like 85% of Koinonia’s clients, Michael had a dual diagnosis of developmental disability, a chronic health condition (at least one), and a mental health diagnosis. He required 24-hour care, with staff being within arm’s reach to ensure not only Michael’s health and safety but the wellness of the other people that lived in the home.

It was at Stearns House that he met former DSP and current ICF Home Supervisor Janice Smith on her first day on the job in 1994.

“When I first met Michael, he chased me out the door,” said Janice. “The supervisor asked me if I was willing to come back to the home again, and I said ‘Of course! We all have to get broken in somehow’.”

Nurse Manager Stacey Wolfe worked closely with Janice and the care team to train them on Michael’s medication, diet, and support techniques. This included the need to puree his food and ensure that meat was cut up into small bites, navigating the home with the use of a walker, and providing positive and proactive communication to support his psychological needs and control aggressive behaviors.

As the team at Koinonia got to know Michael better, they learned that he loved sports and liked joking around. He also enjoyed dressing nicely and dancing. Additionally, they learned to read signs that would let them know if Michael was having a good day or a bad day. They learned what was important to Michael, such as being able to move freely around his home, having choices at mealtime, and for staff to greet him with a handshake when coming on shift.

Shortly after joining Koinonia, Janice was transferred to a different Koinonia ICF home, Wallings House, and Michael followed her there. They ended up spending many years together, and Janice became close with Michael, his father Robert, and his brother Dennis. Soon, Dennis and Janice began to form their own bond and stayed in touch even after Michael’s death.

Stacey remembers Michael fondly, having worked with him since she joined Koinonia in 1997.

“He had a smile like Mick Jaguar,” said Stacey. She credits the teams at Stearns and Wallings for helping Michael adjust to life in a group home. “It was their dedication and perseverance that helped Michael adjust and thrive in his new environment.”

Unlike Michael who was more profoundly disabled, Dennis was able to live at home with his family all his life. However, with the recent passing of his father Robert, there is no one available to provide 24-hour support to ensure his safety and well-being. Because Dennis has been able to be independent and function with less supervision in the past, he is a candidate to move into a Koinonia community home that is funded by an Ohio Department of Disability Individual Options Waiver.

Once again, Dennis’s family is turning to Koinonia for help.

Many people from Koinonia came together to help Dennis and Fred navigate the process of applying for benefits with their local County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Through the combined efforts of Director of Waiver Services Jenn Rocco, Admissions Coordinator Barb Jarjisian, Waiver Program Manager Paula Jordan, and ICF House Manager Heidi Spaeth, Fred was able to complete and understand the funding process, gather the necessary paperwork, and examine possible homes that Dennis could reside in. However, it may be some time before Dennis can move in.

Since the beginning of the year, Koinonia has temporarily closed two licensed group homes due to the workforce crisis. In addition to having space available at a group home, Koinonia also must have direct support professionals trained and ready to provide the critical supports necessary to help people like Michael and Dennis live in our community. Hiring additional staff includes onboarding, specialized training by our nursing team, and on-the-site coaching specific to the people that live at each site.

“Koinonia’s dedication to excellence through training and coaching is so important to us,” said Fred. “It’s why my family and I are willing to wait for a spot at a Koinonia home to be available for Dennis.”

Because of donors like you, Koinonia has been able to touch thousands of lives during the past forty-seven years. We can’t thank you enough for your support and commitment to people like  Michael and Dennis, Koinonia’s staff, and our collective commitment to their work. Small or large, every donation is greatly appreciated. CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION to help Koinonia navigate the Workforce crisis.