By Ben Tinsley
RICHARDSON — Justin, 39, is a resident of Community Homes for Adults, Inc. or CHAI, a nonprofit Dallas-based organization serving adults with cognitive disabilities.
The Richardson CHAI home in which Justin now lives used to belong to his grandmother, explained Lisa J. Brodsky, chief executive officer of CHAI, Inc. It opened under CHAI last month.
“Justin used to live at this house before he came to live with us,” Brodsky explained. “His parents really needed him to live here again.”
So Justin’s parents leased the three-bedroom home to the organization, she said.
“They approached us about it and were very generous,” Brodsky said. “Now Justin lives here again and his parents really like it. They only live a few blocks away and we can provide the services we are known for.”
Brodsky said with this new house, CHAI now has 27 people under an umbrella of seven homes. But the Richardson house is the first to ever be leased rather than acquired outright.
“Most of the time we have homes that were donated,” said Andrea Mayes, director of Programs and Services for CHAI. “This three-bedroom home is expensive to own. But it is a really good model for us to try out and use, so we’re very excited.”
In regard to the new renting arrangement, Brodsky said it would be studied throughout 2016.
“We’re renters now and we will have to evaluate,” she said. “But this could be a new model.”
Of the 27 people housed by CHAI, 14 are women ages 24 through 71. The men are ages 27 through mid-60s.
Roughly 65 percent of the people who live in CHAI homes are Jewish. In the Richardson home, there is only one Jewish resident — Herbie. He and Luke are Justin’s two housemates.
All CHAI homes have a mezuzah, and soon, the home of Justin, Luke and Herbie will be no different.
A mezuzah will be placed in the doorway of that Richardson residence during a Jan. 11 open house. Rabbi Ariel C. Boxman from Temple Shalom in Dallas is expected to perform the ceremony and members of the CHAI board of directors and families of the residents will be invited.
Mayes said there is a huge waiting list of people with cognitive disabilities who wish to live in CHAI homes.
“I get calls about it daily,” she said.
Nearly everything, including furniture, utensils and lawn appliances, was donated to the Richardson home, courtesy of the community and CHAI’s board of directors, which Brodsky described as “amazing.”
“The guys brought their own beds and items for their rooms but everything else was donated,” the CEO said.
It costs money for CHAI to take care of people and sometimes it takes financial assistance to make ends meet, officials said.
“It costs $60,000 a year to live here, which most families can’t afford,” Brodsky said. “State Medicare doesn’t reimburse that amount, and half of our residents are private paid through the assisted living program. The CHAI board faces the dilemma of having to raise money through donations to allow many residents to live here.”
Justin and Luke have jobs at which they work during the day.
“Justin can walk to work and Luke works in Preston Center and takes the DART Handy Ride,” Brodsky said. “Our other resident Herbie goes to a day habilitation program. DART comes to pick him up as well.”
On Saturday, Justin — who works at Cafe Max — was preparing for a volleyball tournament.
But what he really wanted to talk about was his girlfriend Chrissy, of whom he quickly produced a photo.
Justin said he gets along well with Chrissy’s mother and the two of them intend to spend their lives together. Plus, she loves bowling, he said.
Justin said sometimes he takes Chrissy to the cinema but insists they go to the scarier movies.
“She loves it,” Justin said. “We go to it all the time. It’s really spooky.”
When asked if he liked taking her to romantic films or action films like the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justin replied in the negative.
“Not Batman again!” he said. “Sheesh!”
Luke, meanwhile, discussed how he takes a bus to work in the mornings. He is a busboy.
“I work at the Corner Bakery,” Luke explained.
Luke proudly displayed a plaque from his workplace, Corner Bakery Cafe, commemorating 10 years on the job.
“The flame symbolizes passion, drive and dedication to building our brand,” the plaque read. “Thank you for 10 years of loyalty to Corner Bakery Cafe 2004-2014.”
Herbie, the only Jewish person who lives in the home, was not present to be interviewed.
The men, who share a bathroom, have TVs in their room and in the living room. The housemates participate in shared activities such as Special Olympics and pizza night on weekends. Staff members stay at the house with them in round-the-clock shifts.
“It’s really working out,” Mayes said. “They haven’t had any problems as of yet.”
Speaking of fun things for residents to do, there are volunteers who come in to CHAI homes and give manicures and pedicures to the women. There also are events such as the Special Olympics, various birthday parties and the JCC Habima Theatre, a program that runs from January to May. (Last year’s production was Mary Poppins.)
CHAI is the Hebrew word meaning life. This is a nonprofit corporation under Jewish auspices. Residents and nonresident clients receive support and assistance with health care, social and leisure activities, daily living skills and transportation.
Residents and nonresident clients are also assisted with obtaining and maintaining jobs in the community. In addition, CHAI administers several outreach programs to people with special needs living in the community.
Dr. Carmen Miller Michael founded CHAI in 1983.
Although it took many feasibility studies, surveys and cost analyses before CHAI could come into existence, the idea was approved by the Social Planning Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and its board of directors.