A Calgary father wasn’t about to settle for a life of dependence for his son with Down syndrome, so he built an independent living opportunity right on Okotoks’ borders.
When Greg Toews dropped his son off for his first day of high school, it hit him that in three years Daylen would graduate, and there wasn’t a game plan for what came next. With Down syndrome, Daylen wouldn’t be embarking on post-secondary education, work or travel the way other 18-year-olds might.
“So I thought, why don’t I design his future?” said Toews. “This was the best I could come up with and give him some kind of independence, life skills and friendship.”
The concept behind Daylen’s Place was conceived – a home where people with Down syndrome could live together with the help of caregivers and learn essential daily skills like preparing meals, cleaning the house and washing clothes, all while socializing with people who are alike in mindset.
“This gives them surroundings with people who live the same way they live, not seeing the negatives we have to face every day – how could that not benefit them?” said Toews.
There are two 4,200-square-foot homes at Daylen’s Place – one for males and one for females, each equipped with seven master suites to accommodate three residents and their caregivers.
The homes have been professionally decorated and equipped with state-of-the-art appliances and electronics to keep residents safe with built-in auto shut-offs for gas and power, and quality home décor to keep residents comfortable and entertained.
A security system has been installed in each home, with cameras around the exterior and in common areas of the home. Toews said that has been a nice touch during Daylen’s first month living on his own in the home.
“The common areas I can watch him, and I probably check about 20 times a day or more,” he said. “The best part is he’s never sitting down, he’s always doing something – learning words, learning counting, chores.”
Once Daylen has some roommates in the house, Toews said he expects more social skills to be developed – something a lot of people with Down syndrome struggle with.
“A lot of kids, they don’t have the friends, they don’t have the confidence, and by putting them together they’re going to be encouraged to laugh, to talk,” he said. “They’re probably going to be best friends forever, and given that chance we all had.”
The location opens up opportunities to its residents as well, he said. The homes are located in Foothills County, but just across from Okotoks’ West Baseball Diamond and a walking path that leads into Mountainview or downtown.
“So when they want to walk into the store, there’s a path that takes them right into town rather than going on the road,” said Toews. “It’s a secluded little area, and very safe.”
Once he’s settled into the routines of independent living, Toews said Daylen could get more involved with the community, volunteering in town and getting to know people in Okotoks.
For now, he’s happy to be living on his own, working with his caregiver but responsible for his own day-to-day tasks.
They’re eagerly waiting for more people to take up residence at Daylen’s Place. Toews said hesitant parents whose children may wish to live on their own can find comfort in the fact they are surrounded by friends and have caregivers on-site.
There’s also a way to ease into the transition, he said – Daylen only lives in the home from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, then spends weekends with his parents. They are able to visit him whenever they wish, take him out for dinner, or chat via FaceTime during the week.
“Later on in life, it might be where this is just where he hangs his hat and we have to come visit him,” said Toews. “For now, it’s been one month and Daylen hasn’t stopped smiling.”
Toews said he’s looking forward to having two full houses and seeing how the residents interact with one another.
There is plenty for them to bond over – the men's house has a firepit in the backyard, and the lower common area has a large TV for movie nights, a foosball table, and video games. In the women's house, the common area is stocked up with painting and craft supplies and a fully fenced-in garden waits to be planted in the yard.
“But if the girls want to go play foosball or video games they can go over there too, and if Daylen wants to paint a picture he can come here,” said Toews from inside the female home. “They can have firepits together or help in the garden. Then there’s more interaction between the boys and the girls, too.”
Things like meal prep will be done on a rotating basis, but while one person is frying eggs for breakfast the other two will be there, watching and interacting, building relationships, brainstorming new ways to do things and problem-solving along the way, he said.
“When they do these things as a group it’s going to result in more socializing, more creative thinking,” said Toews.
He said the homes are move-in ready, so parents have little to worry about once they decide to bring their children to Daylen’s Place. Each bedroom is fully-furnished and ready to accept personal touches, clothing and toiletries and the kitchen is completely stocked.
The cost per resident will be between $4,500 and $5,000 per month, including all living expenses such as utilities, food, and Internet.
It’s a small price to pay for the skills, experiences, and opportunities that will open up to residents, he said.
“I want people to see this as a place they could grow old in,” said Toews. “If they could get the skills they need to go out and really live on their own, then we’ve done an even better job than we thought.
“But I’m pretty sure that’s where Daylen is going to grow old.”
For more information visit www.daylensplace.com.