Lunch with the Residential Team
By Stephanie Rhoades, ACMHS Board Member

There’s a little place in Anchorage where lunch is served every Wednesday and Friday in a setting so intimate and secure that one diner spoke openly of feeling depressed from being so far away from his family and the positive steps he took to address that feeling, steps outlined in his personal safety plan.  The day I visited, the doors to this dining room were open and fresh air streamed through them, sending the aromas of home-cooked food whirling throughout.

The chefs were at their stations – Kevin’s rice was already finished and keeping warm, Michael (with a G) was expertly sautéing chicken. And Leland hand fried sweet potato fries and seasoned them to perfection – his secret is the cayenne he adds to the salt and black pepper.  We laughed and talked as we waited for lunch preparations to conclude so we could tear into those culinary offerings!

When all was ready, Kevin said Grace for the table.  He is working toward his GED at the moment, as well as improving his skill set to living independently. The food was served family-style. And it really felt like family, even though I’d never met most of these people before.  The table was surrounded by clients and staff of the ACMHS Residential Team.

Residential Team clients live in Assisted Living Facilities and want to expand their potential to live independently by learning the important skills that are not taught to any of us in school: budgeting, nutrition, cooking, cleaning, shopping and working as part of a team, among others. Residential Team consumers also work on their Wellness Recovery Action Plans (or WRAP), safety plans, mindfulness, exercise, learning and using community resources to support them in their own housing and patience. Leland noted that the Mindfulness group most helped him to be aware of other people, what they were doing and what he was doing and not lose patience from what was going on around him. You have to have patience with other people and pay attention to what they are doing to be part of a group that works together.

When Residential Team clients graduate to independent housing from an Assisted Living Facility, they receive ongoing support from staff in their own homes and continue to develop their independent living skills through continued attendance at Residential Team groups and activities.

These lunches show the culmination and demonstration of all the planning, shopping, budgeting, cooking, cleaning and teamwork skills required to live independently. Team members use community resources available to them, like the Food Banks, to acquire nutritious foods, prepare, cook and store them.  During lunch preparation, and throughout the day, team members refine social skills, share their day-to-day life experiences and learn coping strategies for the stressors of the independent living they will ultimately manage without the assistance provided by Assisted Living Facility staff.

Michael is scheduled to move tomorrow into a Neighborworks property.  He has an 811 HUD housing voucher to help with the rent, so he can manage the price of the unit.  Now, thanks to his hard work and the Residential Team staff and programming, he will also manage the day-to-day domestic engineering of a place all his own.  There is no substitute for the look of anticipation and satisfaction on that man’s face! He is ready to take on the challenges of independent living with the ongoing supports he will receive in this far less restrictive housing environment.

The work of the Residential Team results in people realizing their desire to live independently with support when they are able.  The result of the Residential Team programming also benefits the State of Alaska, as it can reduce the expense of Assisted Living in cases where, with some good teamwork, it is no longer necessary.

I am going to see if I can hook a second lunch invitation.  I won’t be able to stop thinking about Michael and how he does in his new place, Kevin and his GED progress and Leland and those sweet potato fries, with their nice, slow, satisfying burn….Yeah, that last part especially.