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California MENTOR Family Home Agency offers housing opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Tri-Counties 

Central Coast residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the opportunity to find new spots to call home as the California MENTOR Family Home Agency opens its doors.

The organization hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 2 for its new location in Santa Maria, which will serve those in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Mentor recruitment specialist Caity McCardell said it's a step in a new direction for the individuals.

click to enlarge A NEW HOME California MENTOR Family Home Agency's ribbon cutting ceremony with Program Director Wesley Marking (left) and Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Paul Klock (right), marks the grand opening of the Santa Maria Office. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAITY MCCARDELL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Caity Mccardell
  • A NEW HOME California MENTOR Family Home Agency's ribbon cutting ceremony with Program Director Wesley Marking (left) and Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Paul Klock (right), marks the grand opening of the Santa Maria Office.

"It's an opportunity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to go out and choose who they live with, they get to have the pleasure of branching out of their family," she said.

Since 1997, California MENTOR has been a statewide provider of services to adult individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Family Home Agency program works to pair individuals with other community members (mentors) for guidance on tasks like cooking, managing finances, hygiene, or using public transportation in order to gain more independence.

"They are ready to live by themselves or live with a friend. They continue to get the support they need from the county, but they are able to have this sense of dignity to go to the next level of their lives," McCardell said.

Those with developmental and intellectual disabilities come from a variety of backgrounds, she said. Some may just be seeking more independence from family members after seeing their own siblings move out; others may have lost relatives and rather than enter a group home, they can continue to live in a family environment and be "nurtured by the community," McCardell said.

Currently, McCardell is working to find potential mentors by attending networking events to speak with community members and connecting with teachers or medical professionals who seem to align with the role.

"This program is looking for people who would do this out of the goodness of their heart, and the truth is, they get paid a significant amount of money by the county," she said.

Mentors receive money for rent and food, and compensation for the time and energy they invest into the person who they're working with.

The mentor program comes at a good time for the community, McCardell said. As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, group homes are staying closed or shutting down, and McCardell said there is an urgent need for group homes in the Tri-Counties area and an urgent need to find alternatives to group homes. It's also harder for group homes to find employees, making it more challenging to continue operation.

Although the organization encourages mentors get vaccinated for COVID-19 by providing vaccine resources and opportunities, the home program doesn't require it. California MENTOR does require that participants follow CDC guidelines and local public health directives.

Potential mentors go through a three- to six-month certification process that involves background checks and several interviews. Once mentors are matched, program participants get to make the final decision on where they live. Before they move in, the organization will visit a mentor's household several times in order to make sure the home meets certification requirements. The organization will cover any extra costs, McCardell said.

"It is a life-changing arrangement," McCardell said. "It has been known as adult foster care. We are looking for people who are willing to change their lives and open their homes to an individual who has mental and developmental disabilities."

Fast fact

Hotel Cerro in San Luis Obispo recently appointed chef Derek Brooks as its new executive chef. Brooks brings nearly two decades of upscale restaurant and luxury hotel experience to Hotel Cerro's signature restaurant, Brasserie SLO. According to the hotel, Brooks looks forward to blending California coastal cuisine with French brasserie influences. Born in Chicago and a graduate of the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago, chef Brooks has traveled the country and Europe to expand his culinary knowledge and experience, according to Hotel Cerro. Hotel Cerro is located at 1125 Garden St., between Marsh and Higuera in the heart of downtown SLO. For more information and reservations, visit hotelcerro.com. Δ

Santa Maria Sun Staff Writer Taylor O'Connor wrote this week's Strokes. You can reach her at toconnor@santamariasun.com.

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