Encouraging students to support others

St. Thomas alum is making a difference in the Fredericton community. Amanda Dobbelsteyn’s role as social inclusion facilitator at the New Brunswick Association for Community Living is to support individuals with intellectual disabilities.

One of her jobs is with the supported living program. She helps to provide individuals with the opportunity to move out independently by setting up support roommates.

“This program is important because most people have the same common desire to move out of Mom and Dad’s house and live in a place of their own. And so that’s no different for people with disabilities.”

Dobbelsteyn has been in this role for almost two years. She graduated from St. Thomas in 2008 with a degree in human rights.

“I guess the sad reality is that not too long ago it was expected that if you had a disability, then you would go live in an institution with anyone else with a disability. So in that arrangement there was no freedom of choice. And so, people with disabilities weren’t considered to have the same desires as everyone else,” she said. “With the supportive living program, our goal is to provide persons with disabilities with decision making – so not only being able to make the decision of having their own apartment but being able to decorate it and make it their own. Be able to do what they want at their apartment, stay up late and so on.”

Dobbelsteyn thinks students should consider becoming support roommates for these people.

“We hear people say a lot, ‘Oh I wish I heard about this when I was a university student. I would have loved to be a support roommate.’”

Dobbelsteyn said there is a lack of support roommates because people don’t generally know about it.

The organization’s manager of social inclusion Alex LeBlanc recommends being a support roommate.

“Being a supported living roommate may be a good fit if you have a genuine interest in helping people. It takes someone with strong values around inclusion and promoting self-determination and independence,” he said. “Having been a support roommate myself, I can say it is truly a life-changing experience. I learned a lot and it enabled me to live rent free and to earn an extra income at a time when I really needed it.”

Dobbelsteyn said there are several benefits to being a support roommate.

“Support roommates typically live rent free. So if you are a support roommate it’s usually a two-bedroom apartment so you could have your room and then you would live free. And then depending on the level of support needed, sometimes there is a monthly stipend as well. It varies based on each arrangement.”

Dobbelsteyn said all support living arrangements are unique because they are based on the needs of the individual.

“Some arrangements require full-time support. And other arrangements allow the support roommate to have the flexibility to go to work or go to school and be a support roommate at the same time.”

She said the more flexible arrangements could include over-night companionship or direct support hours such as providing meals or cleaning.

Dobbelsteyn said compatibility is important between the roommate and the individual.

“When we think of an ideal support roommate, we aren’t just looking for anyone. We want it to be a good match because if the roommate is not happy, then the arrangement wouldn’t last. We want the compatibility to be there to make it sustainable.”

Part of Dobbelsteyn’s job is to monitor these arrangements.

“I check in with the families once a month. And I also provide support to the support roommates. I do the interviews, the background checks and the screenings.”

Dobbelsteyn said with the lack of support roommates, sometimes individuals will have to wait months to find somebody.

“I guess the key for all of these arrangements is building relationships. And we’ve heard that’s the most rewarding things coming out of it for the support roommates is that the individual is happy.”

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