Craig woman opens her home and heart

Gail Goldsmith enjoys the experience of hosting a developmentally-disabled man

At 9:30 a.m. every morning, Gail Goldsmith prepares lunch for Donny Mendias.

She lays it out next to his personal belongings, and Mendias promptly packs the lunch into a sack and then packs everything into his backpack.

He waits by the window for his ride to his day program, and when the car arrives at10 a.m. he grabs his backpack and Goldsmith walks him out to the car.

He hugs the driver and gives high fives to Goldsmith before heading off to a busy day of activities.

At 4 p.m. he will be dropped back off at home, where Goldsmith will be waiting for him.

This steadfast routine is a fortunate opportunity for the 44-year-old developmentally-disabled Mendias.

More than four years ago Mendias moved in with Goldsmith and her husband Bill in their Craig home as a client of the host home program organized by Horizons Specialized Services.

"It's just like having a kid in school," Goldsmith said .

A natural caretaker, Goldsmith has worked with the disabled all her life. She drove a school bus for the handicapped in North Carolina, and when she moved to Craig seven year ago she started working for Horizons.

After she found out about the host home program, she began taking Mendias with her for long periods of time to see how he reacted to her.

She said she chose Mendias to live with her because, "he can cope with everyday things as long as I am there," she said.

Goldsmith said the one-on-one relationship she can provide for Mendias is the most important part of the program.

"He really trusts and respects me. I tell him what he needs to do and he listens to me. He feels like a man," she said.

Goldsmith explained that a host home is independently contracted by Horizons. She had to become licensed by the state, similar to if she owned a small business.

Amy Ebara, director of service coordination for Horizons, described the program as an extension of the 24-hour supervision provided by Horizons group homes, where Mendias lived before he moved in with Goldsmith.

"Horizons is still very much a part of (the client's) life," Ebara explained, referring mostly to the day program. Horizons provides supervised care six hours a day, five days a week for clients in host homes and group homes.

Goldsmith said she wouldn't be able to provide a host home without this program because caring for Mendias is a full-time job.

"It's not just getting paid for him to sleep here and go to day program. You really have to be a special person to keep up with everything," she said.

But she said the best part is that she can take her work with her.

"Wherever I go he goes," she said. "We've been everywhere."

And Mendias loves to travel. The family has driven all over the United States, and even flown to North Carolina to see Goldsmith's son and two grandchildren.

"This is an experience for him he'll never forget. He will see things that without this he would never have a chance to do," she said.

Goldsmith said when Mendias moved in, her goal was to have him for five years. That will be next February, and she plans on him staying with her for longer.

"The best part (about caring for Mendias) is seeing what an improvement he has made with me. All the things he has learned and the things I have taught him," she said.

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