DELEVAN – For the past 25 years, Esther and Nick Burns have opened their homes to strangers in need and made them family.
The Burns’ home is one of two in Cattaraugus County licensed as a Family-Type Home for Adults (FTHA). These private houses offer an atmosphere of family life to adults who cannot live alone.
The Burns estimate they have cared for about 55 residents over the past quarter century.
“That person will be part of your life and you will be part of their life,” said Mrs. Burns.
The social welfare office of the district of Cattaraugus manages the program in the district and can provide further information on applying as a provider.
The Burns currently live on four residents. Joe, 74, is a Vietnam veteran and has lived with the Burns for four years. Larry, 75, is a former heavy machinery operator who has lived with the Burns for six years. 71-year-old John, previously incarcerated, has been with the burns for 13 years. Gerard, 63, is deaf and has lived with the family for more than 20 years.
“But it’s worth it; the stories, the story, the extended family, ”said Burns, noting that the families of previous residents are still in touch.
The Burns are licensed to accept four residents and two boarders. But houses can only hold one when that works best and that’s all the house can hold.
Before welcoming someone into their home, the Burns prefer to meet that person first. Over the years, the Burns have decided that they will only take men and, if possible, invite them on a house call so that all parties can decide if the placement works.
Accepting a resident through the program takes time and energy, the Burns said. The adults need constant supervision, so they haven’t left the house together for two years. The couple’s adult daughter helps with supervision if necessary.
“I never go to the supermarket without someone,” said Mrs. Burns.
The Burns help their extended family take medication, use medical devices like nebulizers and oxygen, and do everyday tasks like preparing meals and driving to appointments. Burns said there are many things to consider when considering adding to the family. One is the location of your home. Are you within walking distance of a store or church if a resident is religious?
Other things a host family needs to consider are pets. Does the future resident like animals? And if you have children, can the adult take it?
Answering these types of questions will help add a new addition to your family, ”said Mrs. Burns.
Burns is happy to reach out to other family members of potential residents for an insight.
“It’s scary when someone moves in,” she said. “So I think disclosure is really important.”
Burns said her most important role is that of attorney in taking residents to medical appointments. It accompanies all of its residents to doctor’s appointments.
The Burns raised their children and both worked when they opened their home to care for other adults.
“I don’t know how we did that back then, but I was younger then,” said Mrs. Burns.
The couple receives compensation for their work, which is paid for by the residents, usually through their social security income.
Burns’ mother, Esther Kelley, 85, began taking in adults in the mid-1960s. Kelley opened her home to others for 38 years before the Burns bought the house to continue the tradition.
When Kelley first started, she owned a house next door near the corner of Route 16 and Olmstead Avenue, which was the oldest house in Delevan at the time. When her family outgrew the old house, a mobile home was set up next door on Olmstead.
Mrs. Burns’ older brother lived in the old house, and Kelley said she added up to 14 additional residents at one point between the two households. The mobile home was destroyed by fire and the current house was built. The old original house was demolished.
“I like people and I like doing it,” said Kelley, who worked at the Cattaraugus County nursing home in Machias. She has a close family and draws strength from her faith.
“Growing up with it always felt like we had a lot of grandparents,” said Burns.
When Burns ‘parents retired in 1995, she and her husband bought their parents’ house to continue the family tradition.
“It takes a certain kind of person to do this,” said Mr. Burns.
If you are someone who goes out of their way to help others this can be an opportunity, the Burns said. If you enjoyed parenting and having “empty nest syndrome,” this program could be a solution, the couple said.
For the Burns, they also see it as a way to pay up front.
“We’ll get old one day too,” said Mrs. Burns. “And we hope someone is nice to us.”
(Rick Jozwiak is a Cattaraugus County Child Protection Clerk and a former news reporter and editor for the Times Herald.)