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A Pretty Good Life

Matthew Cornfield lives a pretty good life. He’s got family that loves him deeply. He’s got a great roommate, Seann, who has shared a home with him for 18 years. They have a strong friendship. He has a lovely home and support workers who genuinely care about him. Matthew (and Seann)’s home is run by Communitas Supportive Care Society, on organization with more than 40 years of experience caring for people living with developmental disabilities. When his dad, Charlie, reflects on his son’s journey, he is grateful that Matthew has such a rich and full life.

Matthew lives with challenges. He’s been diagnosed with autism as well as Lennox Gastaut disorder, which means he lives with daily seizures that are hard to control. His speech is limited, so sometimes it’s hard for him to communicate his needs.

“It seems as if everything goes in but nothing comes out,” Charlie says. “It must be very frustrating for him.”

Matthew also brings great joy to those around him. He is very affectionate and enjoys spending time with his friends and family and loves being out in the community.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like for Matthew growing up. His seizures began when he was just 4 months old. As a child he was a climber and could get out of any room or onto any piece of furniture around him. He couldn’t be left alone. It was exhausting for Charlie and his late wife, Heather who gave him the best care they could, while also raising his sister, Kim.

Their challenges increased when Charlie began a new job, a gap in his medical coverage meant their insurance provider would no longer cover the supports Matthew required. Suddenly the Cornfields had a financial burden that became unbearable. They felt that their only answer was to put Matthew into full time care, which would be covered by government funds.

“It was the hardest decision we ever made,” Charlie says. “But we had to decide what was best for Matthew.”

Living on Vancouver Island has been a blessing. The resources available to them in the community and in the school system were extraordinary.

“It felt like we had died and gone to heaven,” Charlie says.

When Matthew became an adult, he moved into his current home with Seann (who also lives with developmental disabilities) and Charlie says they’ve noticed a real difference since the two young men came into the care of Communitas.

“The level and quality of care and the resulting positive changes with Matt and Seann are amazing,” Charlie says. “I credit Communitas and all their great staff for creating a safe and caring home environment rather than an institution.”

Communitas’ philosophy of care is person-centred. Individualized care means that Matthew has people investing in him personally, taking the time to discover who he truly is and what he is capable of.

Sheila Bennett is the manager of the home shared by Matthew and Seann. When she first came to their home, Matthew’s bedroom had nothing in it but a set of curtains, new carpet and a bed. She was told that anything more in his room would be over-stimulating for him. When their home needed to undergo renovations, Matthew and Seann relocated to a cabin for 6 weeks. The staff were naturally concerned about how Matthew would respond to a new environment.

“The day we moved into the cabin, he walked over to the kitchen table, sat down, put his feet up on another chair and said ‘bless you’,” Sheila remembers.

The bedroom in the cabin was fully furnished with a bed, dresser, side tables, lamps and pictures on the wall. Matthew was not bothered by any of the extra furnishing during his stay at the cabin nor was he concerned about being away from his home. Sheila says it was a learning experience for the organization.

“This made us realize that the only limitation on what Matthew had in his room was us,” Sheila says. “Before we returned home, new bedroom furniture, blinds and carpeting were put in his bedroom.”

Charlie says that Matthew’s support workers treat him like the young man he is. When he first came into Communitas’ care, they took Matthew shopping to buy age-appropriate clothing and began to explore activities that he would enjoy. As Matthew was treated with dignity, love and respect, he began to trust those who were caring for him. Even the Occupational Therapist who has worked with Matthew for years, commented on how much he had changed, how relaxed he was and how safe he felt.

Coming into care at Communitas was a transformation for Matthew but it was also a transformation for his family. As the Cornfields saw how well Matthew was cared for, it enabled them to do things they hadn’t ever done before.

“When our daughter, Kim, graduated from university in Finland, my wife, Heather and I traveled there, taking our first vacation in 30 years,” Charlie remembers. “It was the first time Heather felt comfortable enough to leave Matthew for so long a period of time and to be so far away from him.”

Knowing that Matthew is so well-cared for means Charlie is at peace as he considers the future.

“I don’t have any real worries. I feel confident that the people caring for Matthew know what they’re doing, and they love my son.” he says. “He’s got a pretty good life.”