Bonnie Leppanen came to live with Hang and Bob Surprenant in 2013 through CRJ's Shared Living program. Today, Bonnie, once shy and anxious, has become part of the family.

Bonnie Leppanen sat next to Hang Surprenant at the piano, but it took a while for the music to begin.

Bonnie affectionately refers to Hang as “mama,” but sitting on the piano bench in the living room the pair acted more like sisters, playfully bumping each other and erupting in laughter each time Hang set her fingers on the keys.

“We love to laugh,” Hang said. “She’s a laughing girl. I am, too.”

Bonnie came to live with Hang through Community Strategies’ shared living program, which places adults with developmental disabilities with home providers who are able to support their needs in a more independent and individualized setting than traditional group homes. People like Bonnie benefit from the more personalized living arrangement because it can help them integrate into a family and a community while continuing to get the support they need to be successful while learning new skills.

Before coming to live with Hang and her husband Bob in January 2013, Bonnie, who was then in her early 30s, was homeless and living in a domestic violence shelter. She was often afraid or anxious and struggled with establishing a daily routine.

Over time, though, Hang and Bob have helped Bonnie relax and feel at home. Each day when she gets home from a day program where she receives additional support, Bonnie obliges the Surprenants’ two dogs, Kimchi and Sugar, with a biscuit from a bowl in the dining room, and then talks over her day with Hang.

Bonnie has her own room upstairs, there are photos of her on the refrigerator door in the kitchen and she has a spot in the gazebo out back where she sits and scans Facebook or watches YouTube videos of her favorite country songs when the weather’s nice.

Bonnie has learned skills like making herself a sandwich for the next day without help and how to use the washing machine and dryer. Hang recently helped Bonnie open a bank account and has been helping her learn to save money.

Most importantly, Bonnie said, living with the Surprenants has made her feel safe.

“They’re very good people,” Bonnie said, resting her head on Hang’s shoulder as Kimchi curled up between them on the couch. “I’m so blessed to have them in my life.”

Bonnie and Hang spend their downtime singing gospel tunes at the piano while Hang plays. On Fridays, they have family movie night now that Bonnie has warmed up to the Surprenants’ fondness for scary movies.

Hang first learned about shared living from a friend who was also a provider. Because Hang and her husband had the extra space, they decided to sign up as providers through Community Resources for Justice. The arrangement can be equally rewarding for the providers and the clients they help, Hang said.

“I just love to help people,” Hang said. “These people, they really need help from us.”

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