The home at 45 Forest St. has a vegetable garden growing in the back yard. A porch looks out over it. Wooden steps lead to the front door and potted pansies bring color to the large gray house. Inside, the house is somewhat unique. It is a community residence for six people with developmental, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.
The home at 45 Forest St. has a vegetable garden growing in the back yard. A porch looks out over it. Wooden steps lead to the front door and potted pansies bring color to the large gray house.
Inside, the house is somewhat unique. It is a community residence for six people with developmental, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.
The house is maintained and staffed by the Cooperative for Human Services, a nonprofit community organization based in Burlington that provides services for people with disabilities in the greater Boston area.
For the Tulins, the Forest Street home has provided a learning opportunity, and for one daughter, a second family.
Claire Tulin, 32, has lived there for 10 years. During that time she has become close with her housemates, of some whom are now in their 50s and have been living at the home much longer than Claire.
“It’s like another kind of a family,” said her father, Roger Tulin. “These folks stay together for large portions of their lives. It’s another kind of intimacy.”
Claire Tulin and her housemates attend day programs throughout the year. In the evenings they prepare dinner together with the help of 24-hour staff, and at night they often go swimming, bowling or dancing. The housemates are seen around town together at restaurants, stores, the library and the supermarket.
“The residents are part of the community [in Lexington],” said Kevin Leahy, executive director of CHS. “They have very full, enriched lives.”
Claire Tulin’s parents live in Lexington and are able to visit her at least once a week. On Sundays, she spends the day with her parents.
She loves to sing with her dad, who accompanies her on guitar, and loves to work in the garden with her mom.
“We planted purple pansies at the house,” Claire Tulin said.
When the Tulins aren’t with their daughter, a dedicated staff attends to Claire Tulin and her housemates. Working in around-the-clock care — cleaning the home, helping with everyday tasks — can be demanding. As such, there is a high turnover rate — the staff rotates every year or two.
“It’s an intense job and it doesn’t pay all that much money,” said Roger Tulin. “You get some very talented, caring, good people and they stay as long as they can and then you hope you get some more.”
But Marie Tulin, Claire’s mother, credits the staff with being some of the most important people in the residents’ lives.
“The better the staff is — the more interested, energetic and motivated they are — the better the program is at the house,” she said. “Right now they have a terrific staff.”
The Cooperative for Human Services was originally organized in 1981 to provide community-based residential services for individuals leaving state institutions. It now serves more than 300 adults with disabilities in 30 towns and cities.
CHS promotes inclusion of disabled individuals into all parts of community life.
Claire Tulin’s younger sister, May, will be a senior in the fall at Mt. Holyoke College and is interning this summer at CHS. She hopes to gain a greater understanding about services for people with disabilities so she can help her sister, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as a seizure disorder.
“I’m realizing that services for people with disabilities are urgent,” May Tulin said. “It really is a human rights issue. We have a responsibility to make sure that people with disabilities are taken care of and their needs are met.”
The house on Forest Street is not an institution. Its purpose is not to isolate the six residents who live there, but to include and accept them as part of the Lexington community.
“What’s so critically important to understand, and I’m only just beginning to understand it myself, is that the real value of a house like this is not just that the folks have somewhere to stay so that they wouldn’t have to stay with their parents until they get old and can’t take care of them,” Roger Tulin said. “This population is marginalized. They really don’t have a place in society unless we help them to achieve one, which is what this [house] does.
“They live together, they work together, they’re part of the community and they have a life which is much, much, much different than what they would have without a place to live together and interact.”