AFL Model Fosters Personalized Home Care

Nate Simmons, left, makes his with Direct Support Professional Ethel Bridges, right.

Nate Simmons, left, is thriving through the Alternative Family Living (AFL) service with the support of his caregiver Ethel Bridges who live in Gastonia.

Winston “Nate” Simmons clearly remembers May 15, 2020, like it was yesterday.

It was moving day, and he packed his belongings – clothes, shoes and books – to move from a group home to his Direct Support Professional Ethel Bridges’ house. Ethel would now serve as his primary caregiver through Monarch’s Alternative Family Living (AFL) service.

“I was excited. I was very excited. This is going to be a good thing,” he shares as he remembers that day. “We are going to have a wonderful time and figure out our differences. I really want to be here so she can help me be high functioning.”

AFL offers a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) the unique chance to live within a family that has been approved to provide the service.

Nate had been a resident at Monarch’s Bessemer City Group Home in Gastonia before it closed in 2020. Ethel was a direct support professional working at the group home. She was so aware of how to help Nate that staff would call her for advice even when she wasn’t working.

Ethel knew when plans were being made for the residents to leave the group home that she wanted to apply to provide AFL services. Her instincts told her that Nate would thrive with the one-on-one support that AFL offered. His legal guardian through the state gave permission.

Nate, 42, is diagnosed with I/DD, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. He can sometimes become anxious, have bad dreams and be unable to express what he is feeling. Ethel’s soothing guidance helps him work through tricky situations.

Since coming to live at the Bridges’ home, Nate has thrived by learning coping skills and socially appropriate behaviors. Ethel’s nickname for him is “Nate the Great.” He calls her “Miss Ethel.” Her four adult children treat him like a brother and include him in family celebrations and holidays.

Ethel is proud of Nate’s successes and fosters his interests. He enjoys drawing clouds and lighthouses. He listens to the weather forecast each morning. He is a proud Pittsburgh Steelers fan, likes to shop for his own clothes and listens to country music. During the week, he attends Opportunity Awaits adult day program in Gastonia.

Vice President of Operations, Long-Term Services and Supports, Nancy Kaierle has seen firsthand the benefits of AFL. “AFL families provide the most natural setting a person can have outside of living with their own family. The AFL provider agrees to care for them as if they were a family member and integrate them naturally into their everyday life which can include church, recreational activities, family gatherings or vacations. We have seen AFL be successful as a long-term solution.”

Caring for others was ingrained in Ethel growing up. Her mother taught her how to care for family. She explains that there were family members with I/DD but back then no one discussed special needs.

Her mother taught Ethel that these family members simply needed more love and attention. Ethel took this life lesson to heart.

“He is like a son from another mother. He is special to me because this is my first person that I have had in my home that was intellectually challenged and he showed us how intellectually challenged we all are,” she says.

As a member of the Bridges family, Nate has chores that include keeping his room clean, vacuuming and folding clothes. As an AFL, Ethel’s home is regularly inspected. She stores medications properly and has included safety features in her two- story, three-bedroom home located on a quiet cul-de-sac. She finds it heartwarming that her neighbors watch out for Nate, too.

What does Nate see in his future? He talks about being married one day to a nice lady, living in a one-floor house and owning one of his favorite cars in either green, red or brown.

Ethel is glad she trusted her instincts to believe that a family setting would nurture Nate’s progress. “Your diagnosis doesn’t define who you are. One day I am looking forward to when Nate can be independent, even though he has been diagnosed and it is a long way away but I live with him and I see it,” Ethel says of his potential.

For more information about the AFL program, please visit here. Click below to watch a video on Monarch’s YouTube channel and hear Nate and Ethel in their own words describe what AFL has meant to them.

Posted on: Thursday February 23, 2023