Love in Her Heart, Love in Her Home
Sylvia Quirin’s Lifesharing Journey
Some people seem to find or make “family” everywhere they go. Sylvia Quirin is one of those people. She and her husband Charles raised five children of their own, three boys and two girls. In addition, they opened their Altoona home to many people with disabilities over the past eighteen years. Sylvia spent much of her career working as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in residential group homes and worked as a residential DSP for Skills from 1998 until she retired in 2002.
When Sylvia speaks about her time as a DSP, you can feel the love she has for the people she’s supported over the years. One of those people was a lady named Marie. Sylvia was Marie’s favorite staff person, and Marie wasn’t shy about letting people know it. She always referred to Sylvia as “mom,” and when Sylvia had a holiday off of work, Marie would go home and stay with her. It’s no surprise then, that when Sylvia announced she’d be retiring, Marie wasn’t hearing anything about it. “She literally packed a bag and said ‘I’m going home with mom,’” Sylvia remembers. One day soon after that, Sylvia came in to work at the group home and found another lady she supported, Joyce, crying. She asked Joyce what was the matter. Joyce told her she wanted to go home with Sylvia, too.
“SHE LITERALLY PACKED A BAG AND SAID, ‘I’M GOING HOME WITH MOM.'”
Because of her work as a DSP, Sylvia knew about Skills’ Lifesharing program. She went through the process to become a Lifesharing provider. Marie’s and Joyce’s birth family members were in agreement, so the two ladies went home to live with Sylvia. “I didn’t want to leave them behind,” Sylvia said, “they were a part of me. They were like family even before I retired.” Both ladies were in their 60s when they came to live with Sylvia and Charles.
“It was a good situation,” Sylvia remembers fondly. “I can’t explain it. It takes a part of your heart, and it’s like family… it’s something to share with somebody else, and they share their life with you. We had a wonderful family unit. Marie was as happy as a bug in a rug, and Joyce was too…they were more like sisters than roommates. Marie took care of Joyce, and Joyce would stick up for Marie.” Ultimately, Joyce became ill and had to move to a nursing home to receive the care she needed. “We visited her there often,” Sylvia says, “but it wasn’t meant to be for her to come back home.” Joyce passed away in September of 2008. Marie lived with Sylvia for a total of 18 years until she passed away in September of 2020.
“IT TAKES A PART OF YOUR HEART, AND IT’S LIKE FAMILY… IT’S SOMETHING TO SHARE WITH SOMEBODY ELSE, AND THEY SHARE THEIR LIFE WITH YOU.”
Sylvia’s family embraced Joyce and Marie with the same love that Sylvia did. All of her children called and visited regularly to check in on the ladies. Marie referred to them as her “adopted siblings.” Marie’s favorite “adopted brother” was Chuck, who helped Sylvia and Marie with grocery shopping and other things around the house. He visited almost every day. Marie would often send Chuck on errands to pick up whatever she wanted for lunch. Chuck was always happy to oblige. When anything happened that would cause Sylvia to be away from home or unable to support Marie or Joyce, her family stepped in to help. They didn’t want the ladies to have to leave their home for any reason. The love that Sylvia had for Marie and Joyce was clearly shared by her children, based on the care and support they lavished on the ladies.
Sylvia has many fond memories from the years she spent with the Marie and Joyce. On one occasion, the family went to St. Petersburg, Florida for vacation, and visited with Sylvia’s son. Marie and Joyce loved staying in a hotel and eating breakfast there. They thought they were in heaven. They saw all kinds of sights while in Florida. Sylvia remembers a visit to the St. Pete pier where they all had dinner together and went shopping. “Marie and Joyce had each bought a new ring, and they had their rings on, and a pelican flew over and did its doodie right on their rings,” Sylvia remembers with a laugh. “They were so upset about that!”
At home in Altoona, the entire family got together every Sunday for dinner. Chuck would do the cooking. Marie would set the table and help clean up. There were many memorable dinners. Sylvia and Charles’ five children meant there were many grandchildren born into the family. “Marie visited all of the grandchildren at the hospital when they were born,” Sylvia remembers. “She loved babies. She grew up in an institution and took care of babies there, so she knew how to pick them up and handle them and was familiar with diapering and how to put a blanket on a baby. She was very affectionate towards all of the grandchildren.”
Sylvia remembers how much of a dedicated advocate Marie was for other people with disabilities, especially her two sisters, Evelyn and Irene, who lived in a group home. Sylvia assisted Marie with keeping in contact with her sisters. In fact, at one point Evelyn also came to live with Sylvia for four years. Sylvia took Marie to visit her sisters as often as she could until they both passed away. Sylvia took Marie to visit her sisters’ graves frequently. When Marie wanted to purchase headstones for both of her sisters, Sylvia took Marie to look at the memorials. She helped her to check prices, decide on the engravings, and make the purchases. Unfortunately, by this time Marie had difficulty walking on the cemetery terrain, which prevented her from visiting the grave sites. Since Marie could not go to see the gravestones that she had purchased, Sylvia took photos of the headstones for Marie. Marie was filled with joy.
“I HAVE MUCH LOVE IN MY HEART FOR THE PEOPLE I WORKED WITH AND TOOK CARE OF, AND THEY TOOK CARE OF ME, TOO.”
Lifesharing means just that, sharing your life—both the good times and the challenging ones—with other people. Sylvia, for her part, doesn’t remember any challenges. “I had no challenges,” she says. “If I had a problem, I tried to handle it myself. I loved all of it. If I had a chance to do it again, I would…Lifesharing is a beautiful program, and it’s something everybody should know about. I have much love in my heart for the people I worked with and took care of, and they took care of me, too.” When asked what she would tell someone considering becoming a Lifesharing family, her answer is simple…“Go for it! If you’re thinking about it and have love in your heart, take a chance and do it. Most people think it’s challenging, but once you get to know the people, your outlook changes. It’s special. It’s very special.”
To learn more about Lifesharing and how you can become a Lifesharing family, please contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.