A Family Affair

A Family Affair

Here is the featured cover story of our summer Discoveries magazine. 

Decades of devotion have nurtured a fulfilling life

To meet the Smith family is to witness the meaning of love and devotion.

In addition to raising their own six children, Gary and Shirley Smith welcomed 12 foster children into their home over the years. Their eldest son, Mike, who was born with cerebral palsy, has been part of the Hammer & NER family since 2008.

Mike with his parents, Shirley and Gary

Gary and Shirley cared for Mike at home until he was in his 20s. As Mike grew older, it became more challenging. They found a group home in St. Paul where Mike lived for many years. However, it was a long drive from the family home in Wayzata. They wanted Mike closer to them. They searched for alternatives and found Hammer Residences’ McGlinch home. “The staff was great,” Gary says, “and we were impressed by how the home was managed. The other people there were so welcoming.” And it was only 10 minutes away!

“One of the blessings about McGlinch is that once you’re there, it’s home and you’re not looking to leave until the good Lord says it’s time,” Gary says. “Mike made the decision that McGlinch is his home. When he would come for an overnight, he would ask ‘When am I going home?’ That’s where his friends are. That’s where all the magical things happen.”

When Mike was younger, he was very active. He participated in Special Olympics in high school and was a runner. “We’ve got the medals here somewhere,” Gary says. “He was also involved in therapeutic horseback riding and loved to downhill ski at Normandale Hylands.”

Now in his early 50s, Mike has limited mobility and uses a wheelchair. He needs more support medically. The McGlinch staff help him with daily exercises. “We have a goal to get him back on his feet again,” says Mike’s brother, Josh. “We’re working on keeping him motivated. He hasn’t been able to come home for weekends or sleepovers because of mobility issues.”

Mike loves staying in touch with his family. He “FaceTimes” Gary three times a day to tell him what he’s doing. Josh also hears from him frequently. “We’ll video chat and he’ll tell me about a movie he wants to see. Or he may tell me he ate some pork chops, or maybe he has a new girlfriend.”

Younger brother, Rory, also chats with Mike via FaceTime. They love joking back and forth, especially about which celebrities they think they look like. “We make each other laugh,” Rory says. He brings Mike dinner or a special treat every Thursday. “It’s important to keep him connected to the family,” Rory says. “We all live so close so that makes it easier.”

Mike goes to WorkAbilities during the week. “It’s a great way for him to get out and get involved,” says his sister, Mandi Smith Brandon. “He may stuff envelopes or stack and sort books. It provides a sense of purpose, and he has friends there.”

Mike with some of the McGlinch staff 

The staff at McGlinch have truly made a difference in Mike’s life. “Sometimes he gets frustrated,” Mandi says, “but Comfort Ahavit (one of the home’s Lead DSPs) has been such a blessing. She can talk to him and bring him back down and make him feel at peace. He wants to cooperate and feel more like Mike again. It takes a really special person to have those tools and genuine caring.”

The Smiths also appreciate that staff get Mike to his medical appointments and then follow up with the family. “It’s a great support for us,” says Mandi.

Josh says Program Manager Abdul Qayyumi recently stepped in to get Mike to and from Workabilities when there was an issue with Mike’s transportation. “He did it until the issue was resolved,” says Josh. “That was huge. Mike needs that consistency to stay on track. Abdul and Comfort are a great duo in making sure Mike is getting what he needs.”

Like many families, the Smiths are preparing for Mike’s siblings to take on more responsibility and decision making. “They have stepped up and will continue to do so after we’re gone,” says Gary. “We laid the groundwork many years ago. Because we did foster care when they were growing up, they have always understood the need to be involved. It instilled a watchfulness in them to make sure they take care of their brother.”

Mike and his sister, Mandi

Mandi agrees. “It’s been a natural progression of the siblings all being involved,” she says. “Everybody’s there and we’re happy to do it. That legacy will continue after our parents. Fortunately, we have a very close-knit family. We can support each other on that journey. That’s what family does.”

If you would like to be added to our Discoveries mailing list, please email Barbara.Brandt@hammer.org


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