Homeowners With Developmental Disabilities Bond As Roommates
AURORA, Ill. — It’s a household that loves to talk sports … with John Zidlicky and Ken Larson the passionate White Sox fans and roommate Dick Servatius a huge Cubs supporter.
But it wasn’t spring training or Chicago’s pitching prospects the trio wanted to discuss on a recent visit. They wanted to chat about their Aurora home.
“This is our house,” said a notably proud 64-year-old Zidlicky. “We have owned it for 14 years.”
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Chris Schuberg, who is case manager with Bethesda, a Lutheran-based nonprofit service that works with people who have developmental disabilities, says when it comes to these three clients, the “first thing they want to tell people” is about their role as homeowners.
“It is,” he added, “a pride thing.”
According to a University of Minnesota study published in 2017 that took a long-term look at the living arrangements of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, 80 percent not living with family reside in small group settings of six or less people, compared to 84 percent who were living in large group settings of 16 or more in 1977.
According to this same report that tracked data through 2015, 27 percent of the residents now live in homes they own or lease. But the three Aurora men, who got their mortgage in February of 2004 through an Illinois Housing Development Authority program called Project Ground Floor, are still a rarity, Schuberg noted.
The Wisconsin-based Bethesda, which serves 13 states, including multiple regions of Illinois, rents seven homes in the Aurora/Naperville/Plainfield/Yorkville area alone, as well as in other parts of Illinois, he said. But this ranch-style home on the West Side of Aurora is the only one in the state that is owned by its clients.
And there’s no doubt, said Schuberg, who is based in Sugar Grove, that the men “care for it better because they know it is their house.”
Recently, Zidlicky and Larson proudly led a tour that included a garage area renovated into a recreation room, complete with game table and large fridge; a kitchen with a couple of views of the spacious backyard; an open family room with big screen TV; and three bedrooms, each showcasing family photos, sports memorabilia and a flat-screen television.
Inside and out, the home is meticulously maintained. And every room was spotless, nicely decorated, homey and well organized.
“That credit all goes to them,” insisted Maricela Quintanilla, who works part-time as a direct support provider for the three men. “This is the way they maintain it all the time,” mostly thanks to Zidlicky, who “likes a tidy house.”
Zidlicky quickly agreed with that assessment, adding he also is in charge of shoveling snow in the winter and raking leaves in the fall. But they are all “hard-workers with different skill sets,” insisted Schuberg. While all three take turns being “chef for the night,” its 62-year-old Larson — the most outgoing of the trio — “who probably has the most fun recipes.”
Dick Servatius, 71, is older and has more physical challenges, but still manages to stay positive. And “he is definitely,” added Quintanilla, “the one who controls the TV.”
In addition to sports, the roommates say they enjoy watching the evening news together — no political talk, by the way — followed by “Wheel of Fortune.” But despite four TVs in the house, these men are hardly couch potatoes.
Because all three work so hard on their independence, Quintanilla jokes that her main job is “to be the Uber driver,” running them on household or personal errands, as well as taxiing them to myriad activities that keep them hopping seven days a week.
Although they are now retired from their jobs at the Thompson Center — Zidlicky also worked in the kitchen at Presence Fox Knoll retirement community — the trio still attend the STARS program with the Association for Individual Development five days a week, where they continue to work on life skills. They are also actively involved with the Men’s Club at St. Paul Lutheran Church, with Zidlicky and Larson serving as ushers. And they take part in various exercise programs through the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, in addition to attending as many community events as possible.
The last movie they saw? “Black Panther,” Larson replied. “We loved it.”
Because “they are on the go a lot,” said Quintanilla, “they are really well-known in the community.” It gets to the point, keeping the roommates on schedule is an issue because “they are always bumping into people who know them.”
All three men have known one another for much of their lives — Zidlicky and Larson grew up together in Cicero — and became roommates years ago when they lived in an apartment by Phillips Park in Aurora. But it was when they became homeowners that the bond grew even tighter.
“They have their fair share of arguments,” said Schuberg. “But after all these years, they truly have become brothers.”
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