See what happens when one caring mother opens her home and her heart to an individual with disabilities

Sheri, Miah and Katherine look like a happy family – and they are. But not in the way you might think.

Sheri Perch moved into a brand new home outside of Louisa, a charming small town in central Virginia, about a year ago. The location is good for her daughter Miah, 19, who attends Piedmont Virginia Community College, and for Sheri, whose parents live in nearby Culpeper.

It is also good for Katherine Johnson, an active, softball loving 60-year-old with a 1,000-watt smile who has been part of the Perch family for the last four years. The safe and attractive neighborhood means that she can take her beloved walks, and the proximity to Sheri’s family means that she is part of the fun things that families do.

She proudly shows off her bedroom, complete with four-poster bed and walls filled with puzzles she has completed with themes ranging from animals to Disney characters. She can’t wait to play softball in the upcoming Special Olympics, loves to clean house, and wants to start a garden. Most weekends you will find Katherine with Sheri’s extended family, enjoying church and lots of good food.

As an adult with intellectual disabilities who has been in the social services system since the age of five, Katherine had lived in many different settings — on the campus of the Southside Training Center and in half a dozen or so group homes. With Sheri, she has more mobility, more security and lots to keep her busy. And most important, she is part of a loving family.

Katherine is enjoying family life to the fullest because Sheri is a Family Care provider through Lutheran Family Services of Virginia.

Sheri had worked as a certified nurse assistant for many years and wanted to continue providing one-on-one care. Her parents, also Family Care providers, loved their work, and Sheri would often help them out with their individuals. Becoming a provider was a natural fit.

Crystal Steger-Smith, a Family Care Manager at LFSVA, says very few people know about the Medicaid-funded program, which provides a stipend to providers based on the needs of their individual. “Becoming a Family Care provider is a big decision,” says Steger-Smith.

Providers take 56 hours of training and go through a licensing process. They also adhere to a support plan for their individuals, says Steger-Smith, and are responsible for daily documentation. Family care is a team process, says Steger-Smith.  “We are always there for support beyond our monthly meetings. We really want the relationship to be a success.”

Part of that success comes from matching the right individual to the right provider.

Sheri got to know Katherine slowly. She picked her up from the group home twice for dinner, then there were three visits, and then a couple of overnights.

Katherine is very active, and at first Sheri didn’t know whether they would mesh. Katherine is verbal, but not fluent, which means that sometimes it can be hard to understand her. Sheri was undecided.

But then, during one visit, everything changed when Sheri happened to mention that she had a headache.

“Katherine came over and put her arm around me and asked if I wanted some water. That was a turning point. She definitely has a sweet heart.”

“It’s not for everybody,” says Sheri. “You have to be a person who has a lot of patience, but I recommend it to anyone who has a lot of love and enjoys taking care of others. Katherine is a joy to be around.”

Are you interested in learning more about becoming a Family Care Provider? Call 800.359.3834 or email info@lfsva.org.