Community Heroes Shepherd’s Way

By now, we’ve heard stories about individuals stepping up to support their communities during the pandemic, but this one is special. At Shepherd’s Way, a shared living program in Wichita, Kansas, the community heroes are adults with autism, who during the quarantine are so committed to their community that they’ve returned to work as essential workers at a local grocery store, some even taking on extra hours.

Living in a Supportive Community

The sense of responsibility that compelled residents Dallas, Charles, and Jordan back to work during the pandemic may be traced to the close bond within their “family.”  The three adults with autism live in a home with trained peer mentors as housemates who support, guide and advocate for their housemates with disabilities.  Visiting a Shepherd’s Way home is a lot like visiting the home of university students or housemates.  There are chore lists, cleaning schedules, meal prep activities, financial responsibilities, family meetings and game nights.  Residents pitch in alongside their mentors and everyone works outside of the home, including residents, making for a tight knit and functional community of peers.

Shepherd’s Way residents and mentors pre-COVID19.

During the pandemic, the mentors have played an important role in helping residents adjust to disruptions while still keeping up with the skills that they had developed.  Routines have continued, and housemates who returned to their family homes have joined house meetings and game nights on Zoom to sustain community closeness.  Teaching safety became a priority, not only to keep everyone safe within the home, but also when they return to work.  Mentors and residents have learned the importance of practicing hygiene and physical distancing without stirring anxieties.  And they’ve understood that maintaining safety is a responsibility that they have to one another and to the wider community.

Dedicated Essential Workers

The residents take great pride in their work and their ability to contribute and be part of the wider community, so when the call came to return as essential workers, they did not hesitate.

Here’s what Jordan said about his new role in the pandemic: “I love to keep people safe during this time. I do this by cleaning carts, taking showers every day, washing my hands, wearing a mask, and staying safe.”

For his part, Dallas has increased his hours to nearly a full-time schedule to fill in during the quarantine. Asked whether he considered himself an essential worker, Dallas replied enthusiastically, “Yes!  They need me!”  Dallas’ hours have increased to nearly full time, and but he hasn’t minded as he feels it is important to help people feel safe.

The sense of purpose that Shepherd’s Way residents have developed, thanks to the safe environment that has nurtured them, can be summed up in Charles’ sentiments: “God is challenging me to stay safe and to be myself while remaining confident. I am trying to help people know what they want and what they are looking for and to keep them safe.”

Dallas with some patrons at the grocery store in Wichita, Kansas.
The NEXT for AUTISM Grants Program supports organizations that provide educational, employment, social and community-based services to improve outcomes for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. It is funded by proceeds from the Night of Too Many Stars comedy benefit, which in 2017, was done in partnership with HBO.