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A home of their own

Chrissy Klotz stands by her ink drawings of lighthouses in the home she occupies with other Heartland residents. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

Chrissy Klotz and Lindsay Gooch keep their apartment neat as a pin.

They’re proud to show it off, tastefully decorated with photos on the wall and a mix of neutral tones and deep reds and purples for accent.

Chrissy loves lighthouses, so one corner of the living room is dedicated to her own lighthouse ink drawings and a commercial print of one in Duluth.

The house in a residential neighborhood of Park Rapids is divided almost like a duplex with separate kitchens and living areas.

“The guys” live in the other half. The back yard opens out onto woods where they feed the neighboring deer and a fire pit where they can roast marshmallows.

The spiffy garage must be the envy of the neighborhood, it’s so clean and organized. The guys’ half is tastefully furnished in a wildlife theme, also neat as a pin.

In another home, Tina Brown loves to cook Mexican food. The hotter, the better.Tina Brown plays cards. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

These are among six group homes owned and managed by Heartland Homes that house 60 residents. Officially called Heartland Homes/Options in Community Living, Inc., the non-profit celebrates 35 years this Saturday with a dinner and fundraiser.

The concept was the brainchild of interested local residents who wanted to empower disabled persons to live on their own after de-institutionalization swept through state treatment facilities, when their residents were wards of the state.

Initially, the founders sought to build a home that would house eight persons. In 1978 that house was built in Park Rapids. More homes followed and currently Heartland operates six homes with 24-hour supervision.

By 1982 Heartland was operating a program called SILS, Semi-Independent Living Skills to assist clients a few hours a week so they could remain at home. Waivered services followed, to offer assistance for those living outside a licensed facility.

Currently there are 59 clients and around 60 full- and part-time staff, said Executive Director Curt Cannon.

“We teach, mentor and supervise,” Cannon said.

Most of the clients work for the Developmental Achievement Center, or DAC.

“They provide the income; we provide the home life,” said Designated Coordinator Bill Simpson, who has been with the organization nearly 23 years.

Heartland helps clients with everyday living skills, including food, shelter and entertainment, to Hubbard County and surrounding communities. At times it has provided burial services.

“We are definitely not a nursing home,” Simpson pointed out. “These are people that are proud of their jobs, earning their own money. Everyone pays his (or her) own room and board. Rates are set by the state. We are a vital piece of the community.”

Clients shop, eat, pay taxes and support local businesses. Some have family in the area. Others, like Gooch, used to. Her parents moved to South Dakota a year ago. She chose to remain in Park Rapids because she loves her life here.

Lindsay Gooch relaxes in her living room. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Heartland program has been lauded by state officials as a model to be copied by similar agencies.

All clients have their own rooms, jobs and duties. They live somewhat structured lives, which Simpson envies.

They attend area churches and are members of civic organizations. They have their own section of roadway they clean.

“They’re very proud of that,” Simpson said.

Cannon said the facilities’ residents have longevity and ties with the community. Many, like Eric Olson, are well-known in Park Rapids and have been in the area for years, some decades.

It’s not all fun and games, Simpson said. “You still have to do your laundry, go to the dump, go grocery shopping.”

Olson works at Hugo’s Family Marketplace and lives in his own home.

He’s on the Heartland relay team and attends several churches.

At times, direct care staffers have accompanied residents to social functions such as weddings.

Allowing clients to become self-sufficient takes a burden off their families and allows individuals to flourish.

The ham and turkey dinner and a silent auction will be held at the Park Rapids American Legion May 4 from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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