Picnics, dances and a unicorn: adult family home creates memorable experiences for residents

Elizabeth Jewett (L) and Lauren Callender (R)

Contact: Jessica Nelson, DSHS Office of Communications

Jessica.Nelson1@dshs.wa.gov or (360) 628–1043

When a family member is placed in an adult family home, it’s expected they will receive quality care. But one Washington father says his daughter gets so much more — a sense of family and friendship.

Lauren Callender has lived at Abenezer House in Everett since 2018, when she and her father relocated to Washington from Maryland after her mother passed away. Russel Callender says that while the initial transition was challenging, Lauren is now thriving.

“Lauren has blossomed in this environment,” he says. “Although she has significant developmental delays, she is progressing in her development and learning how to interact more appropriately with others, build relationships and deconflict difficult situations.”

Callender says a huge reason for his daughter’s success is Abenezer House Administrator Elizabeth Jewett.

“Ms. Jewett has built a loving and caring atmosphere for all the residents with birthday parties, dancing, holiday celebrations, cultural experiences and regular opportunities for other life experiences,” he says. “Together they go bowling and swimming, go to church, picnics and participate in Special Olympics.”

Jewett moved to the United States from Ethiopia in 2006 and has been with Abenezer House since 2016. She makes sure the residents stay busy and have the experiences of other people their age. Jewett is a licensed cosmetologist, so she enjoys helping the residents get ready for trips out to dinner or the movies.

“My goal is to give them a home,” Jewett says. “Anyone can provide a house. I want them to have a home where they are loved and respected. I want them to be part of a loving and nurturing family.”

She also shares her culture, including Ethiopian history, food, music and dance, even some of the language. When Lauren’s father remarried last year, Jewett taught all the residents a traditional Ethiopian wedding dance to perform after the ceremony. She also bought them matching peach dresses to be bridesmaids at the ceremony, and they all arrived in a limousine. The wedding guests loved the performance.

“That’s what I want them to experience,” Jewett says. “For them to be complimented and told they are beautiful and talented.”

Russell Callender says he’s also been able to partner with Jewett to provide positive experiences, like when the residents at Abenezer House got a visit from Amora the Unicorn during the pandemic. Callender arranged for a neighbor to bring their horse for a visit, complete with a horn. Callender says the residents gathered in the driveway. Lauren was so excited she went back into the house and put on a unicorn T-shirt.

Woman in a pink shirt stands next to a white horse with a unicorn horn
Lauren Callender stands with Amora the unicorn

“It felt so good to give them some joy,” he says. “It was so cool.”

Jewett agrees. She says when Amora arrived, they couldn’t believe their eyes. One resident asked her: “Am I dreaming?”

Callender described his experiences in a letter to DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses, saying he wanted to share his appreciation for all the people at the Department of Social and Health Services who work hard to make families and people across Washington feel supported.

“We love to hear stories like this, especially because we know many of our clients are thriving in community settings and living their best lives with needed support from their families, roommates and others,” says DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses. “Our case resource managers and other staff are working with community partners all over the state to create these types of positive experiences for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together, we can work together to create more situations like this for people in our lives who just need some extra support and the resources to make it happen.”

Jessica Mora, the DSHS Aging and Long-Term Support Administration social service specialist who works with Lauren Callender, agrees.

“It was emotional,” she says about receiving the letter. “It was nice to see that something so positive was coming towards us, that our client’s family member was taking the time to really reflect on everything that their loved one is receiving. Because that is their home, so we just want them to be happy and comfortable where they’re at.”