By Christina Autry

Having operated group homes for Houston adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) since 1985, Vita Living, Inc. continues to provide a high quality of life for these Spring Branch residents. Joseph Cooper, CEO, and Craig Felderhoff, Chief Administrative Officer, are at the helm of this non-profit which provides much-needed services for both adults and children in the Houston area.

Vita Living operates nine ranch-style homes immersed within Spring Branch neighborhoods. “Our group homes are designed to integrate into the community. You wouldn’t know that our homes were any different than the rest of the neighborhood,” says Cooper. These homes have been renovated to accommodate the requirements of Vita Living residents.

Renovations have included widening hallways, adapting bathrooms, and other adjustments for the ease of both residents and the staff who support them on a daily basis. Landscaping, patio furniture, and personalized décor make the houses truly feel like home, a sentiment oftentimes remarked by visitors.

Caregivers for these group homes work in shifts to ensure that there is always a staff member present to assist residents. Clients are strategically grouped in specific homes to meet their needs in the best way possible. However, when placing residents, who range in age from 22 to 75, compatibility with other residents is extremely important. “You want a community of residents who get along, and enjoy similar activities,” says Felderhoff. “They become like family.”

This rings especially true since 65% of Vita Living residents no longer have any living relatives. The non-profit provides a loving environment as an alternative to homelessness, incarceration, or institutionalization that many individuals with IDD face.

With Medicaid covering 85% of tuition, and the remaining 15% paid for through fundraising, residents and their families receive all Vita Living services for free. For families who find that they need additional support to care for their loved ones with IDD, getting connected with Texas state services can be a tedious process.

“There is a 12-14 year waiting list in Texas for IDD admissions to group homes through the Medicaid waver program,” says Cooper. “That’s why we’re in the process of building new facilities in Spring Branch, to expand our housing capacity.”

The Vita Living Housing Initiative will consist of a 5,125 square foot community containing a six-resident home, a duplex for another six individuals, as well as a landscaped shared community area. These brand-new homes have the added advantage of being designed specifically for Vita Living residents, rather than having to be remodeled.

During today’s Covid-19 pandemic, residents are practicing social distancing, and therefore spending more time at home. During normal times, however, much of the residents’ time is spent outside of their homes. They are transported to the Vita Living day center during the week, where they engage in building life skills, social skills, practice behavioral interventions, play games and do activities.

Residents look forward to the frequent off-campus outings that Vita Living arranges, from something as simple as a grocery-run, to a Texans football game. “Our outings are based on the interests of our residents,” says Cooper. “Our house supervisors create monthly calendars according to what our clients love to do. We provide transportation to church, restaurants, movies, bowling, shopping trips, or bigger events like rodeo cookoff, Astros games, as well as volunteer opportunities.”

“Some of our residents do have jobs. On top of transportation to and from work, we can do job coaching and advocacy,” says Felderhoff. “We may meet with their boss and provide further information about our client’s IDD, and how they can thrive in their work environment.”

Vita Living also provides case management services for individuals with IDD who do not live in their group homes. Case management, offered for both children and adults, occur in the homes of families across seven counties in the Houston area. Covered through Medicaid, this provides an avenue for individuals to receive such as physical and occupational therapy, medication, attendant care, and equipment like wheelchairs.

Many families have discovered Vita Living through friends with adult children with IDD. “We know that there are more families in Spring Branch who could benefit from our services,” says Cooper. The non-profit hopes to continue to spread the news regarding their new housing opportunities, in an effort to serve the people who are in desperate need of assistance.

Anyone interested in finding out more information should first access the Vita Living admissions page on their website at www.vitaliving.org, and fill out the interest form. The organization will then contact you, invite you to come visit, get to know your needs, and take you on a tour of one of their homes.

“We are very transparent because we want this to be a long-term, successful relationship,” says Cooper. “We understand and value the need for individuals with IDD to have as much stability in their lives as possible.” For families in Spring Branch and West Houston, the location allows them to easily remain involved in the daily life of their loved one, with the support of a compassionate and skilled community.

Vita Living, Inc.
3300 S. Gessner, Suite 150
Houston, TX 77063
www.vitaliving.org