By Dan Montgomery

Nathaniel Freeman-Gayle’s Danville apartment is not fancy. It does not have a spectacular view out its windows, and, being a basement unit, there aren’t many windows anyway. But it is clean and tidy, and it’s the place where Nathaniel is proud to live — by himself. 

Showing a guest around his place, Nathaniel demonstrated how he makes his bed, keeps his clothes clean and put away, washes dishes, and keeps his shopping receipts organized. 

“He’s been doing really well,” says Kristy Giles, a Lutheran Family Services of Virginia direct-support professional. “He has a routine where he gets up in the morning, takes his shower, gets dressed, gets his coffee, his breakfast, his medicine. He likes to smoke — he goes outside to smoke before his ride comes to get him.” 

This prompts Nathaniel to smile self-consciously. 

“There are some things we have to work on, and we’re in the process of working on them,” Giles says as she catches Nathaniel’s eye. “Mainly toward trying to break away from the cigarettes, because he knows the health issues.” 

A previous attempt at independent living alone didn’t go so well for Nathaniel. He just didn’t have the skills necessary to live on his own, and he often wandered the streets of South Boston, getting into trouble, says Markita Hairston, a family and in-home care manager in LFSVA’s Danville office. The social services agency then working with Nathaniel told him he would never be able to succeed on his own,  

But it was always Nathaniel’s goal to move into his own place again, and when he started working with LFSVA three years ago, the people in LFSVA’s Danville adopted his dream as their own.  

“We wanted Nathaniel to live a normal and independent life as much as possible,” says Hairston. “We knew that Nathaniel had the ability, we just had to help him in tap into it.” 

Working with Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services case manager Talvin Holland, the LFSVA team placed Nathaniel in a family care home and created a plan to make his impossible goal possible.  

“It took a long time,” Nathaniel says now. “It took me two years. I learned different things, Nathaniel says. “Pay your rent, pay your electric bill, cable bill, phone bill….” 

“Nathaniel and his provider put in a lot of work,” Hairston says. 

The ride that comes for Nathaniel each morning takes him to work, either at a local deli and or at a work center for adults with disabilities. 

“I like to work,” Nathaniel says.  

“When he comes home, he puts his stuff away and makes his cup of coffee,” Giles says. “He’ll decide what he wants to do, what he’ll eat for dinner. He’ll make sure his bathroom is clean, he cleans up behind himself in the kitchen, sweeping, mopping. He makes sure his trash is taken out daily.” 

Visits from Kristy or another direct support professional often include shopping trips.  

“If he knows he needs a household product, he’ll ask, ‘Kristy, can you take me to Dollar Tree?” 

Nathaniel nods enthusiastically at this: He likes shopping at Dollar Tree. 

And he likes talking on the phone. “He calls his friends,” Giles says. “He has a girlfriend he calls — he’ll blow her phone up!” 

This, too, prompts smiles from Nathaniel. 

For the larger LFSVA team that helped him get to this point in his life and continues to support him daily (he needs to constantly reinforce and improve his skills), Nathaniel’s successful move to his own apartment represents a big step toward abundance and new levels of independence. 

“Nathaniel has done a marvelous job transitioning from the sponsored home he once lived into his own apartment,” Hairston says. “It was a process, and he worked hard. Nathaniel living in his own apartment is Nathaniel enjoying the fruits of his labor.”