"We wanted to show everyone we could do it on our own."
With that declaration, Fred Lund and Darlene Lowman were on their way to becoming the first developmentally disabled Carroll countians to participate in a new program that allows them to choose their own housing and select support services they want from the Carroll County Association for Retarded Citizens to make independent living work.
"We're now moving toward a new paradigm," says Donald A. Rowe, CCARC director of residential services. Maryland is one of eight states chosen to test a new federal program to give developmentally disabled adults greater choices in housing and to integrate them more fully into their communities.
Mr. Lund, 36, and Miss Lowman, 34, have been apartment hunting for about a month with the help of Mr. Lund's sister, Janet Thomas. They haven't found a place yet, but have their eyes on a place on Liberty Street and are waiting to hear from the landlord.
Miss Lowman's dream apartment would have two bedrooms to provide enough space for Mr. Lund's model cars and ships and her antique dolls, a washing machine and dryer, a porch and "a big yard."
The apartment hunt has been complicated by Toby, their 2-year-old cat, but the couple refuses to move from their supervised apartment in the basement of a Westminster CCARC group home unless he can go along. "So many places say 'no pets, no pets,' " says Mrs. Thomas. "If I've checked 20 places, 15 of them were 'no pets.' "
Toby, Miss Lowman explains, "is our baby." Mr. Lund takes a less sentimental view -- "It costs us a fortune to keep him" -- but he agrees that the cat cannot be left behind.
The new program, called Community Supported Living Arrangements, will change the role of the CCARC staff, Mr. Rowe says. Traditionally, agencies such as CCARC contract with the state government to provide services to developmentally disabled individuals who had been living with families or in institutions. The agency would find group homes and assign live-in supervisors and clients.
"Because we as administrators made all these decisions, we were at times housing people together who didn't necessarily want to live together," Mr. Rowe says.
Miss Lowman and Mr. Lund were actually a little ahead of the new program, having decided two years ago that they wanted to share an apartment. They lived at the time in group homes, he on Bond Street, she on Green Street.
"He used to walk down every night to see me. I couldn't do without him," Miss Lowman says, laughing as she adds, "Now I've got him."
She says that in two years, they haven't had to call for help from the supervisor of the first-floor group home.
They worked out the usual household arrangements. She handles the money, he does "fix-it" chores. They take turns cooking and washing dishes. Miss Lowman has her mother read recipes to her over the telephone, but she says proudly that the heavy hand with the spices is her own doing.
For clients, the change to community-supported living begins with a planning meeting to work out individual goals and objectives. "Instead of [listing] our goals, we ask, 'What are your dreams? Where do you want to be five years from now?' " Mr. Rowe says.
The planning meeting covers service requirements. For example, CCARC will provide transportation for Miss Lowman and Mr. Lund to their jobs at the sheltered workshop. They will also have drop-in supervision by a staff member who will check on how they're getting along, what they need, etc. Mrs. Thomas offered to take them grocery shopping.
They will be on their own, but they have a photo-coded list of telephone numbers, and help is as near as the phone if they need it.
One benefit that Mr. Rowe expects to emerge from the program is the opportunity for the clients to make friends in the non-disabled community.
Instead of a trip to the ball game planned by CCARC, someone from an apartment down the hall might invite them to an Orioles game, he suggests.
The community-supported living program is limited to Medicaid-eligible clients. Maryland has a $12 million, four-year grant to provide services such as personal assistance, training, 24-hour emergency aid, assistive technology or adaptive equipment and transportation.
The grant does not cover housing, food or programs such as sheltered workshops or activity centers.
Carroll County's share of the grant will depend on how many clients opt for the program and what cost-eligible services they require, Mr. Rowe says.
Miss Lowman and Mr. Lund, meanwhile, are already looking beyond their own apartment to the next step: independent jobs. Mr. Lund has worked as a dishwasher at a Westminster restaurant, but the 3-to-11 p.m. schedule meant he missed most group social activities and spent much of his time working alone.
He left that job for the sheltered workshop, and now he would like to find custodial work.
Miss Lowman's career goal is less specific, but she says that after 13 years at the sheltered workshop, it's time to move on.
Thinking about leaving the workshop is scary, she admits, but "I want a job where I can get out on my own."