A Thanksgiving story: Woman finds new home with island family
Last February, Katherine Thompson, a 36-year-old woman with Down syndrome, was facing homelessness due to the untimely death of her main caretaker, her mother. Thompson accompanied her mother on that last and final trip to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Thompson was already carrying her pocket book and all of her possessions with nowhere to go. The hospital director suggested that Thompson be brought back to her mother’s home until a group home living arrangement could be secured.
Susan Robertson, a Jamestown resident, was on duty at the hospital that evening and was asked by her supervisor to take Thompson back to her mother’s house. When Robertson arrived at the house, she observed that the conditions Thompson was living under were horrible. Unable to leave Thompson alone, Robertson took the woman to her own home in Jamestown. Robertson convinced her husband, Tony Longo, that becoming mentors to Thompson, under Rhode Island’s Shared Living program, would benefi t everyone.
Thompson also asked Robertson and Longo if she could stay and live with them as a family. After careful consideration and a family meeting of Robertson, her son Clayton, Longo, and their dog, Riley, it was unanimous. The family would apply to the program and request that Thompson become part of this new, expanded family.
R.I. MENTOR opened in Rhode Island in March 2006. It is licensed by the Division of Developmental Disabilities and has 38 offices nationwide. The R.I. office is located in Warwick and supports 61 people across the state. According to Shaelyn Crooks, the coordination supervisor, mentoring is not the same as adoption or foster care. The program matches and places adults with disabilities in a home of his or her choice with families in the communities. Mentors are considered independent contractors. They receive a daily stipend as well as room and board payment.
“Fate brought us together,” Robertson said, regarding her new living arrangement with Thompson. “It was the right thing to do.” Since moving in, Thompson has blossomed. She has lost 70 pounds and has become involved in cooking and exercising. Thompson has had her teeth fixed and likes to go with “the girls” every eight weeks to the salon for hair and nail beauty treatments. Thompson also holds down a job and has become much more social. She helps out around the house, is ambitious and has set many goals for herself. One goal is saving up enough money from her job to afford a Disney cruise. Robertson is helping Thompson save for the trip.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Longo said, yet he cautions anyone considering becoming a mentor and says that it requires a lot of patience and understanding. “I was a bit hesitant at first, but with Susan’s prodding, I’m glad to have welcomed Katherine into our home. I love Katherine. She’s part of our extended family now.”
Robertson currently works at Target and Longo works as a building contractor. For the past 23 years, Tony has been appearing at the Narragansett Cafe, playing in the band, Nasty Habits.
As a Jamestown family, Susan, Tony, Clayton, Katherine and Riley love to take long walks around the island. Thompson’s favorite place is the drugstore, Baker’s. The family loves the beach at Mackerel Cove as well as fall hayrides, meeting the neighbors, visiting the fire department or just going out for coffee. Thompson’s mother loved the beach, so the family decided to spread her ashes at Fort Getty. They had a little ceremony and said a prayer. Thompson finds comfort in knowing her mother is always close by, resting in peace and that she is being well taken care of.
Thompson is thankful this holiday season for having a roof over her head, ample food on the table, her own bedroom, a shared bath and a generous family who are providing her with all these wonderful blessings. Thompson is looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with Susan, Clayton, Tony, and 16 other family members. Robertson’s brother and his family will fly in from California to join in the celebration. Thompson’s culinary talents will bring to her new family’s table a secret recipe stuffing and a fresh baked apple pie. Everyone in the household is grateful to have each other to love, to share and no one takes anything for granted.