SIOUX CENTER—There’s no place like home, and that’s been true for Becca Kooiker.
For two and a half years, she had lived at the Village Northwest Unlimited in Sheldon.
“She did well there until a federal law passed that they could no longer work in the workplace they had on campus,” said Becca’s mother, Beth Kooiker of Sioux Center.
After that, she started to look at other options for her daughter and spoke with her friend, Lori Brandt of Sioux Center.
At the time, Lori and her husband, Kevin, were discussing downsizing their home when Lori heard about Becca’s situation.
“We said we would take her on, we would have her come live with us,” Lori said.
For parents with children with severe intellectual disabilities, there is a big worry about what will be next when they’re too old for school or if their current living situation doesn’t work out.
“It’s a very huge question,” Kooiker said. “I’m 68, and how long will I be around to care for her? My husband is already gone. What happens to their life after their main caretakers are gone is a huge concern.”
Becca also had behavioral issues that were hard for Kooiker to handle. She was too overwhelmed to give Becca, now 23, the care she needed.
“They can sense what they’re missing out on in regular life from other people and get frustrated and act out,” Kooiker said. “Like little kids, they can act worse for their parents than they do for their caregivers in other situations.”
Because Lori Brandt and Kooiker already had a personal connection and with enough space to provide a home for Becca, the Brandts were able and willing to take Becca in.
It’s a housing situation called host housing, but to do so requires working with the proper agencies, much like getting into foster care.
“It’s another place to look at for your loved one if they’re an adult and they need support outside of their homes,” Brandt explained.
Making the decision to open their home like this still took some prayerful consideration and some personal changes.
Kevin even left his job as a school custodian so that he could be at home at all times for Becca.
Becca moved in with the Brandts on March 1, 2017, after the Brandts worked things through such programs as Consumer Choice Option and Money Follows the Person.
The agency they work with now is called Mosaic at Home, which operates in multiple states. Although it has an Iowa presence, there isn’t anyone in the area besides the Brandts who’ve become a host home.
Mosaic is an agency that has a variety of services designed with people with disabilities, mental and behavioral health needs and autism in mind.
There are plenty of responsibilities that the Brandts have in their roles as hosts, too.
Mosaic at Home personnel meet with the Brandts monthly, and the Brandts keep daily records and other paperwork, such as detailing any medications that Becca takes.
They also must make sure she’s getting regular dentist appointments and keep track of her family’s special events and holiday gatherings.
After the move
Since moving in with the Brandts, things have gone well for Becca.
For starters, she’s gotten a part-time job with Vi Bella in Sioux Center. It’s not a lot — only about 26 hours a month — but it gives her something to do outside of the house, tasks to stay focused on and a way to earn a bit of money, which she enjoys.
“She’s probably become a little more independent,” Lori said. “She’s developing skills and staying on a task and doing something. I think that’s something people didn’t think she could do. I feel she’s pushing the bounds of doing a lot of things people didn’t think she could do.”
“Because she doesn’t have the verbal skills, a lot of people think she has a lot less skills than she actually does have,” Lori continued. “She’s able to do quiet a bit for herself.”
The Brandts try to keep Becca on a routine and helping with different tasks such as taking out the trash, doing some laundry work and cleaning her room.
Becca has also become a part of the family for the Brandts, going along for most things.
“This summer, we went out on a family vacation,” Lori said. “That was fun for her. She got to go to the beach and put her feet in the water and play in the waves for the first time.”
The other week, she went along with the Brandts as they went out to eat in Sioux City to celebrate Kevin’s birthday.
Kooiker is also grateful for the way Kevin and Lori’s kids have welcomed Becca into their families and events.
“They are just fine with her being there. … It’s a beautiful situation,” she said. “They invite her to their family gatherings and to their baptisms and those kinds of things. They give her Christmas gifts. It’s a beautiful thing. She’s a part of their family.”
Lori and Kevin see being a host home as a way to serve, and they believe they have been able to help Becca and her family through this.
“When we do have issues, they’re way fewer and far between than they used to be,” Lori said. “In terms of Becca caring for herself and doing things that a grown-up would do, I feel there has been huge gains.”
Kooiker agreed: “She’s enjoying life so much more; she has a life.”
This has brought her peace of mind for Becca and her future.
“I’ve said it to so many people, that it’s so much more than I could even have prayed for her,” Kooiker said. “She’s happy, she’s safe and she’s enjoying life. It’s beyond what I could have prayed for. … Kevin and Lori are such a gift to Becca and to me. It’s beyond expression.”